Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
A Telemann Companion
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/René Jacobs
Full texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMX2908781/87 [7 CDs: 520 mins]
To mark the 350th anniversary of Telemann’s death, which fell in 2017, Harmonia Mundi has reissued three gatefold albums in a sturdily attractive box. The intent is clearly to signpost three of his principal areas of importance; opera, in the form of Orpheus, sacred music via the Brockes-Passion, and a raft of orchestral pieces that include concertante works as well as overtures. The performances are all in the hands of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin as well as RIAS Kammerchor, mostly directed by René Jacobs.
The three-act opera, Orpheus, oder die wunderbare Bestandigkeit der Liebe (“Orpheus, or the marvellous constancy of Love”) has only been ascribed definitively to Telemann in the last few decades. This was its premiere recording. Small interpolations – some music has been lost – ensure its well-proportioned shape and excellent variety of arias and its dramatically convincing trajectory. The Hamburg stage, over which Telemann presided, was quite unusual in not merely allowing but seemingly encouraging multi-language performance and so there are sung arias in the expected German but also Italian – which was the normal alternative – and French. Far from interrupting things, one can listen to this with a sure appreciation of the procedure of the time.
A splendid cast is led by the villainess, a role assumed by Dorothea Röschmann whose vehement and convincing malice and technically impeccable coloratura alike are important components of the set’s success. The appropriately lyrical Orpheus is baritone Roman Trekel, some of whose singing is shadowed by lissome ingratiating winds. Werner Güra impresses by virtue of the warmth of his expressive tenor as does bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann, who takes the relatively small role of Pluto but does so with consistent distinction. Counter-tenor Axel Köhler has a decidedly darker-than-usual voice with strong mezzo colouration. The orchestral forces impress just as much: dappled winds, tight pizzicati, a crisp athletic sound that is only very occasionally too athletic – I am thinking of the slightly over-busy harpsichord in the third scene of the first act, for example. All in all, it’s an outstanding set.
Jacobs proves to be a distinguished exponent of the Brockes-Passion as well, not needing to align it to operatic imperatives through any escalation of the orchestra’s role, given that it’s an intensely theatrical work of itself. In fact, it’s arguable whether innocent listening would not suggest a stage work. Its beauties are many and varied; the first part Arioso, the dramatic coloratura demanded at the opening of the second part – possibly the work’s most overtly theatrical experience – or the natural drama and energy flowing from the unfolding of the work, scene by scene. These qualities are not confined to the music, given that Barthold Heinrich Brockes’ text is so vivid and theatrical, and privileged drama over liturgy. And if the orchestral forces were on exciting form in the opera their role in the Passion is, if anything, even more crucial because ever more conversational, ever more intercessionary and Jacobs, being a creature of the stage, misses no opportunity to allow his forces their full moment. The solo singers are most impressive: clarity and refinement mark out their contributions individually and collectively.
There are three CDs devoted to orchestral suites and concertos. The Overture in D major – the Jubeloratorium für die Hamburger Admiralität - is as grand as its subtitle suggests and provides seven minutes of thrills whilst the Alster Suite, on a much bigger canvas, is both broadly conceived but sectionally characterised with great brilliance. The more compact charms of the Suite in G minor, TWV 55:g1 embrace some vivid dissonances and are full of Francophile infiltrations. When Telemann asks for vitesse Jacobs notably puts his foot down – the concluding Harlequinade goes like a rocket. Telemann’s gift for concise musical character sketches can be heard at its richest, perhaps, in the Suite in D major, TWV 55:D18 though the Les Nations suite is full of little national musical postcards – from Turks to Swiss by way of Portuguese (not very obviously so) and Muscovites. Midori Seiler – whose surname is spelled correctly on the box cover but not in the booklet track-listing – plays the Les Grenouilles concerto with humour, wit and great sensitivity in the bare-bones accompaniment to the central Adagio. Maurice Steger is the fearless recorder soloist and he plays with excellent tone and technique in the C major concerto, but his presence can be felt throughout the final disc whether soloistically or in orchestral ranks in the suite and overture.
There is a hefty 163-page booklet with notes, texts and translations. If you want a representative example of Telemann’s work in these three spheres – operatic, sacred, orchestral – this box proves to have numerous attractions.
Dorothea Röschmann (Orasia), Roman Trekel (Orpheus), Ruth Ziesak (Eurydice), Maria Cristina Kiehr (Ismene), Werner Güra (Eurimedes), Isabelle Poulenard (Cephisa), Hanno Müller-Brachmann (Pluto), Axel Köhler (Ascalax)
RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Solistes du Knabenchor Hannover/René Jacobs
Brockes-Passion, TWV 5:1 (1716)
Birgitte Christensen (soprano): Lydia Teuscher (soprano):Marie-Claude Chappuis (soprano):
Donát Havár (tenor): Daniel Behle (tenor):Johannes Weisser (baritone)
RIAS Kammerchor/Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/René Jacobs
Overture in D major, TWV 23:1 (1723) [7:06]
Overture (Suite) TWV 55: F11 in F major for 4 horns, 2 oboes, 2 violins and bass continuo 'Alster' [30:58]
Suite TWV 55:g1 'La Musette' (1730) [12:19]
Overture in F major, TWV55:F9 ‘La Chasse’ [13:31]
Overture (Suite) TWV 55: D22 in D major for 3 trumpets, timpani, strings and bass continuo, 'Ouverture jointe d'une suite tragi-comique' [15:24]
Hornpipe, Sarabande, La Suave [2:29]
Overture (Suite) TWV 55: D18 in D major for 2 trumpets, percussion, strings and bass continuo [20:48]
Overture (Suite) TWV 55: B5 in B flat major for strings and bass continuo. 'Volker-Ouverture' [20:18]
Concerto TWV 51: A4 in A major for violin, strings and bass continuo 'Die Relinge' [12:56]
Overture (Suite) TWV 55: G2 in G major for strings and bass continuo 'La Bizarre' [17:27]
Overture (Suite) TWV 55: a2 in A minor for recorder (flute), strings and bass continuo [28:37]
Concerto TWV 51:C1 in C major for recorder, strings and bass continuo [16:22]
Overture (Suite) TWV 55:C3 in C major for wind, strings and bass continuo 'Hamburger Ebb und Fluth' ('Wassermusik') [24:39]
Midori Seiler (violin)
Maurice Steger (recorder)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin