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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Komm wieder, Herr, zu der Menge der Tausenden in Israel, Oratorio for the dedication of the new St. Michael's Church 1762 (TWV 2,12)
Rahel Maas (soprano); Marian Dijkhuizen (contralto); Julian Podger (tenor); Klaus Mertens (bass); Mauro Borgioni (bass)
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. 2018, Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne
Texts and translations included
CPO 555 214-2 [71:40]

Last April, the world watched in horror as one of the most prestigious monuments of France, the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, burned. The pictures went all around the world, and people prayed that the cathedral would not be completely destroyed and its treasures would be saved from the fire. When the flames were extinguished, it turned out that those prayers had been answered. The people of Hamburg were less lucky when, on 10 March 1750, the large St Michael's Church caught fire and was destroyed within the hour. A contemporary witness report stated that the bells melted and fell, and "something like a rain of fire spread over the greatest part of the city". Fortunately, rain began to fall and the wind; as a result, the city did not fall victim to the fire.

The city council ordered an extraordinary Day of Repentance and Prayer on 19 March, and the money collected was the start of a campaign for the reconstruction of the church. Johann Daniel Zimmermann, the archdeacon of St Catherine's Church, delivered two sermons in which he expressed the view of the orthodox Hamburg authorities, that the fire had been God's judgement on the citizens of Hamburg for their sinful lifestyle. He added, though, that God not only had shown his wrath, but also his grace, as He had spared the city.

Zimmermann was also the author of the libretto of Telemann's oratorio, which is the subject of the present disc. On 19 October 1762, the newly-built church was dedicated during a religious service; at its heart was a sermon which lasted two hours. It was embraced by the two parts of Telemann's oratorio, which were performed before and after the sermon. It was an important event, not only of a religious, but also of a political, nature. "Johann Melchior Goeze (1717–86), then the senior of the Church Ministry (...), concisely formulated the political goals that the clergy had in mind: 'Until the end of time' the privilege was to be reserved for Protestantism 'alone to have churches in Hamburg.' Accordingly, in the eyes of the clergy the dedication of St. Michael's Church was also a magnificent endorsement of the privileged status of Lutheranism as the state church in Hamburg" (booklet).

The political involvement left its mark in Zimmermann's text. He had already written the libretto, when the authorities stipulated an addition to the recitative 'Doch die Bedürfnis selbst' (No. 21). In this long recitative, Zimmermann paid tribute to the citizens of Hamburg for their collections contributing to the reconstruction of the church, but the authorities also wanted their own part specifically mentioned. "O Eternal One, (...) you saw not only a common will aroused by the council of authorities to pay tribute to the temple as well as the city by taking on a greatly increased burden: you saw how early the initial grief at the altars as yet remaining moved your people, along with mild tears, to pour out even more sacrifices." In this inserted text, Zimmermann also referred to the sermon by Ernst Ludwig Orlich. "In it the preacher on this festive occasion sketches the organization of a human society founded on eschatological thought and whose members despite their social differences peacefully live together under the roof of pure Protestant doctrine: rich and poor as well as high and low had 'one and the same path to heaven'."

The sad events which made the rebuilding of the church necessary are reflected by the restrained opening chorus in the style of a motet (like many opening choruses of Bach's cantatas): "Come back, Lord, to the multitude of the thousands of Israel"; the text is from Numbers 10 (vs 36). Next follows an accompanied recitative, which opens with a fanfare of two choirs of two trumpets and timpani each. The fifth section takes a central place: "Heilig ist unser Gott" (Holy is our God), from the chorale Herr Gott, dich loben wir, the German version of the Te Deum. This returns in the second part, first in an instrumental version of the three lines, then in the entire chorale, sung by the choir. In this part the oratorio refers in several ways to the sermon and to elements in the liturgy, for instance Psalm 84, which was read after the chorale.

The large forces Telemann had at his disposal attest to the festive character of the occasion. An ensemble of five solo voices, five ripienists, twelve violins, two violas, two transverse flutes and two oboes (played by the same musicians) and six instruments for the basso continuo, plus six trumpets and two sets of timpani was much larger than Telemann usually could rely on for his regular performances of sacred music in the five main churches. He uses them effectively to emphasize elements in the text, for instance in the dramatic chorus 'Du, du bist erschrecklich' (You, you are to be feared. Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?) or in the aria for bass, 'O Tag, vor dem wir noch erstaunen': "O day, which still causes us astonishment, day full of fear and grief and doubt, O day of turmoil, O day of trumpets, the most horrifying of our days, you we shall always see before us." Here the trumpets and timpani are used to depict the text. The B part of this aria ends with a chromatically descending figure on the text "Lord, your temple shall go down". This work shows some similarity with the oratorio Der Tag des Gerichts, which dates from the same time.

In his old age, Telemann had not lost none of his creative powers, and that comes clearly to the fore here. This is the first recording of a magnificent work, which should receive the same interest as others of his large-scale works, such as Der Tag des Gerichts or Die Donner-Ode. It is a matter of good fortune that the performance is nearly ideal, although I would have liked a different singer for the second bass part other than Mauro Borgioni, whom I have heard in better form than here. In particular Rahel Maas, Julian Podger and Klaus Mertens are impressive in their arias. There are some arias for four voices, and here the soloists and ripienists blend very well. The recitatives are sometimes a bit too strict in rhythm, and that goes especially for the long recitative No. 21, which I mentioned above. The orchestra's contributions are excellent.

Overall, this performance does ample justice to this impressive composition, and Telemann lovers should not miss this important addition to the discography.

Johan van Veen

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