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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767)
Christmas Cantatas III
Was für ein jauchzendes Gedränge (TWV 1,1509) [17:15]
Eilt zu, ruft laut, ihr längst verlangten Boten (TWV 1,415)* [16:46]
Verirrter Sünder, kehrt, ach, kehret um (TWV 1,1469) [14:41]
Da die Zeit erfüllet war (TWV 1,154) [20:12]
Hanna Herfurtner (soprano), Carola Günther (contralto), Mirko Ludwig, Fabian Strotmann* (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass)
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. 2020 at the Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, Germany DDD
CPO 555 396-2 [69:18]

It is not very hard to find music for Advent and Christmas, written by German composers of the baroque era, as it was one of the main seasons in the ecclesiastical year. Bach's Christmas Oratorio, his Magnificat and his Advent and Christmas cantatas are frequently performed, but there is much more, which is still little-known. That goes, for instance, for Georg Philipp Telemann and Christoph Graupner: the largest part of their cantata output still waits to be discovered, performed and recorded. Klaus Winkler, in his liner-notes to the present disc, mentions that Telemann's oeuvre includes nearly 200 cantatas for this period of the ecclesiastical year. Only those, which are part of the two collections of Harmonischer Gottesdienst, all scored for solo voice, are among the better-known parts of Telemann's sacred oeuvre. One of Telemann's best-known Christmas cantatas is O Jesu Christ, dein Kripplein ist mein Paradies. It is for the second day of Christmas, and so are two of the four cantatas recorded here. They are preceded by two cantatas for the first Sunday of Advent.

The Gospel of this day is from Matthew 21: Jesus's entry into Jerusalem, shortly before his crucifixion. Because of that, Jesus's entry into the world is the subject of both cantatas for this Sunday. The first is Was für ein jauchzendes Gedränge; the date of composition is not known. It could be a relatively early work, as it includes three chorale settings, whose melodies are not modernized, as is often the case in later cantatas. The cantata opens with a through-composed aria for tenor, in which the word "froher" (cheerful) is illustrated with coloratura. The first chorale is followed by a recitative and aria for bass. In the latter, the opening statement - "Away, ye sins" - is emphasized by strong accents in the vocal and instrumental parts. Next is another chorale, followed by a recitative for soprano and the chorus. The soprano then returns with a beautiful aria, to an accompaniment of strings and an obbligato transverse flute, which mainly acts as an echo to the solo voice, undoubtedly inspired by the text of the B section: "My heart shall be the echo to multiply the glory of my Saviour". The cantata closes with a stanza from the chorale Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.

In the second cantata, the same subject is worked out in a somewhat different way. It is notable that Eilt zu, ruft laut, ihr längst verlangten Boten has the traces of an oratorio. It has a strong similarity to the oratorios which Telemann composed during the ecclesiastical year 1730/31; a recording of four of these, for the same time of the year, was released by CPO in 2018. The four main vocal parts are allocated to allegorical characters: Love (soprano), Zion (alto), Devotion (tenor) and Faith (bass). A fifth character, Hope, is scored for a second tenor. The cantata opens with an aria, in which the bass represents another character, the prophet Elijah, who urges the messengers (represented by the choir) to announce the coming of the King to his people: "Make haste, shout loud, ye long awaited messengers, cries Zion: Arise, your King approaches". The vocal and instrumental parts open with an upward leap. In the B section the word "jagen" (chase away) is illustrated by coloratura, and "stürzen" (bring down) by a descending figure. The structure of this cantata is different from that of the other cantatas. The second movement is a recitative for alto, followed attacca by a chorus of messengers, and then we get another recitative and chorus. The alto (Zion) then sings an aria, which has a dacapo, but the B section is a quartet. The closing chorale is preceded by a piece for solo voices and choir.

The two other cantatas are for the second day of Christmas and were written during Telemann's time in Hamburg. Verirrte Sünder, kehrt, ach, kehret um dates from 1728. It is inspired by the incarnation of Christ, which results in the salvation of the sinner. However, he will only share in this salvation if he is willing to repent, and that is what is expressed in the recitative that follows the opening sinfonia: "Errant sinners, turn back, ah, turn back and repent!". This leads attacca to an accompanied recitative for bass. This cantata includes two duets of an unusual kind. The first is for soprano and alto; the latter sings the A section, the former the B part. The same goes for the second duet, for alto and tenor: the latter has the A part, the former the B section. They never sing at the same time. The two duets are separated by a chorale, a stanza from Jesu, der du meine Seele. The second duet is followed by an aria for bass, which is a dictum, a literal quotation from the Bible, in this case Revelations 3, vs 20: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock". Obviously, Telemann did not miss the opportunity to illustrate the word "knock". The cantata ends with the first stanza of the well-known hymn Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele.

The last cantata, Da aber die Zeit erfüllet war, written in 1726, is very different: whereas the character of the previous cantata is announced in the rather dark sinfonia, scored for strings alone, the joyful nature of the present cantata is emphasized by the addition of two trumpets and timpani to the strings. The sinfonia is followed by a dictum, taken from Paul's letter to the Galatians: "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son". It opens as a duet for soprano and alto, which turns attacca into a chorus, which is a four-part fugue with trumpets and timpani. Two bass arias embrace a tenor recitative; in the arias the singer urges the "tormented soul" and "brooding reason" respectively to welcome "the miracle of God's Son made flesh". After a recitative for alto, the tenor sings a song of praise: "Praise and thanks be to God, for the bonds of sin, death and the slavery of the law are rent asunder". The cantata ends with the third stanza from the hymn Jesu, meine Freude, in which every line includes an intervention of the trumpets and timpani.

These four cantatas appear on disc for the first time, and one can only be happy that Michael Alexander Willens has selected these cantatas for this disc, which is the third with cantatas for Christmastide by Telemann, released by CPO. May many follow, because once again, Telemann impresses with his originality in the way he sets the text. Fortunately, the performances leave nothing to be desired. Peter Kooij is an old hand in the performance of German baroque music; he was one of the regular soloists in Masaaki Suzuki's celebrated Bach cantata project. Here his interpretation of the bass arias is quite impressive. Listen to the way he expresses the text in 'Fort, ihr Sünden' (Was für ein jauchzendes Gedränge). Mirko Ludwig is an excellent singer, whose diction is exemplary, such as in 'Gott, Lob und Dank' (Da aber die Zeit erfüllet war). Hanna Herfurtner has a lovely voice, which is clear and flexible, as she demonstrates in, for instance, 'Da alles Hosianna ruft' (Was für ein jauchzendes Gedränge). Carola Günther is a new name to me; I like her voice, which has warmth, but at the same time the clarity needed to make sure that the text is understandable. She does very well in 'Die gekräuselten Töne' (Eilt zu, ruft laut, ihr längst verlangten Boten). The tutti are sung by the four soloists; as their voices blend perfectly, these come off to good effect. In Hamburg, Telemann usually had eight singers at his disposal. I would probably have preferred the addition of four ripienists, but that is a very minor issue. The instrumental ensemble is also in top form here.

This is just excellent stuff, and I urge anyone who likes baroque vocal music to add this disc to his collection.

Johan van Veen

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