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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Musicalisches Lob Gottes
Jauchzet, ihr Himmel (TWV 1,957) [18:27]
Fantasia for viola da gamba in C minor (TWV 40,26) [4:45]
Fantasia for viola da gamba in D (TWV 40,27) [8:09]
Gedenke doch, wie ich so elend und verlassen (TWV 1,583) [18:28]
Fantasia for viola da gamba in E minor (TWV 40,28) [4:41]
Fantasia for viola da gamba in F (TWV 40,29) [6:03]
Dies ist der Tag, den der Herr macht (TWV 1,359) [18:49]
Dorothee Mields, Hanna Zumsande (soprano), Klaus Mertens (bass)
Hamburger Ratsmusik/Simone Eckert (viola da gamba)
Rec. 2020, Radio Bremen, Germany
Texts and translations included
CPO 555 387-2 [79:40]

In his time, Johann Sebastian Bach was mainly known as a brilliant organist and a composer of instrumental music. His oratorios and cantatas were hardly known outside Leipzig. Whereas he regularly performed cantatas by colleagues, his own cantatas seem not to have been performed elsewhere. The main reason was that they were never published. That was very different in the case of Georg Philipp Telemann. In 1758, Bach's relative Johann Ernst (1722-1777) stated that "there were very few Protestant churches in Germany in which Telemann's cantata cycles are not performed". This was due to the composer's own music printing activities. Several collections of his music which he printed himself, are well-known, such as Der getreue Music-Meister and the Harmonischer Gottesdienst. The latter collection included cantatas for each Sunday and feastday of the ecclesiastical year, which could be performed in church and at home. To that end the scoring was very modest: one voice, one melody instrument and basso continuo.

However, it was also Telemann's ambition to publish cantatas for somewhat larger forces, that would still be within the grasp of musical establishments that did not have that many singers and instrumentalists at its disposal. The three cantatas performed on the disc under review here are specimens of that kind of pieces. Between 1725 and 1748 Telemann published five cycles of sacred cantatas, and the cantatas on the present disc are taken from the fourth, which were issued between October 1742 and October 1744 in separate editions under the common title of Musicalisches Lob Gottes in der Gemeine des Herrn (musical praise to God in the Lord's congregation). In this case he made use of a professional music printer, Balthasar Schmid in Nuremberg. For the sale of his cantatas Telemann could rely on Schmid's impressive marketing network across Germany.

Whereas previous cycles only consisted of arias and recitatives, this cycle also included dicta (quotations from the Bible) and chorales. The collection comprises 72 cantatas, for each of the Sundays and feast-days of the ecclesiastical year. Each cantata opens with a dictum, which is repeated at the end. In between are a chorale, a recitative and aria, a second chorale and another aria, in this order. The texts are all from the pen of Erdmann Neumeister, a famous author of cantata librettos. As indicated above, Telemann wanted his cantatas to be useful for as many churches as possible. That is reflected by the rather unusual scoring, which could be adapted according to the possibilities of a musical establishment. Each cantata includes two obbligato parts, written in treble clef and soprano clef, and designated as 'first part' and 'second part' respectively, and in the dicta and chorales a bass part ad libitum, plus two violin parts in the arias. Telemann added indications as to in what way this scoring could be adapted. The soprano part can be doubled by a tenor at a lower octave, and the arias can also be performed by a tenor or a bass. The instrumental forces can also be extended: a viola can double the basso continuo an octave higher, and wind instruments can be added to play colla parte with the violins. In some cantatas Telemann added a choir of trumpets and timpani.

The latter are not involved here, as the three cantatas included in the programme are all intended for Sundays or feast-days during the Lent period. Dies ist der Tag, den der Herr macht is written for the Feast of the Annunciation on 25 March. It opens with a dictum, taken from Psalm 118: "This is the day the Lord has made". Telemann had announced cantatas with "a dictum executed with fugues and counterpoints", and this is a perfect example, as it is fugal (and performed here with three voices and basso continuo). The joyful tenor of the cantata manifests itself in different ways in the two arias. The first is exuberant, and in C major, with lively figurations in the violins, whereas the second aria has a more introverted character and is in A minor. The latter has no dacapo.

The other two cantatas are for the second and the fourth Sunday of Lent respectively. It is notable that Bach did not compose cantatas for these Sundays. That was the effect of a practice in Leipzig. The fact that Telemann, in this cycle, but also in his Harmonischer Gottesdienst, included cantatas for these Sundays, indicates that this was not a common practice. Gedenke doch, wie ich so elend is for the second Sunday of Lent, known as Sunday Reminiscere. The term is taken from the Latin introitus: "Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses". The dictum is taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah and includes strong dissonances. The first half of the cantata is in G minor. The first chorale is the second stanza of Herr Jesu Christ ich schrei zu dir: "Lord Jesus Christ, have pity on me". The first aria is a prayer for mercy: "Let my yearning, let my groans, let my pleas reach your ears". Telemann repeatedly uses a sighing figure in the violins. The text includes a turning point, and the remaining sections are in G major. The second aria opens with a quotation from Genesis 32: "I will not let you go before you bless me". The character of this Sunday is then emphasized by the repetition of the dictum.

The fourth Sunday of Lent is known as Sunday Laetare. This title is taken again from the introitus, a quotation from the prophet Isaiah: "Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her". This Sunday looks forward to Easter, which is near. That manifests itself in the dictum, which opens the cantata Jauchzet, ihr Himmel. Its text is also taken from Isaiah (ch 49): "Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing!". However, there are still dark streaks, as the text ends with the line "[the Lord] will have compassion on his suffering ones". Telemann depicts the suffering by dissonants and chromaticism. He emphasizes this element by returning to it at the end, using even more extreme dissonants. The dictum is followed by the well-known chorale Sollt' ich meinen Gott nicht singen. The first aria has some elements of the Jesulatry known from Lutheran pietism, as it refers to Jesus as "my beloved". The violins here imitate the voice. The second aria has no dacapo and thus ends fittingly with the phrase "to sing an eternal Laetare in heaven".

This is a most intriguing disc as it shows the pragmatism of composers, and especially Telemann, in their scoring, aiming at reaching as wide a market as possible. He may have had commercial motifs, but there can be little doubt that he was also driven by the wish to provide churches with good music, in line with the pedagogic ideals of the Enlightenment. And one can be sure of one thing: he never treated the composition of music lightly. These cantatas testify to that. The structure and the scoring are quite original, and something one won't find in any other composer's oeuvre. It is easy to understand why his music was disseminated across Germany. The scoring may have been in the interest of churches with limited possibilities, but that does not mean that the vocal parts are easy. The arias are of a rather operatic character and are often quite demanding. That tells us something about the level of singing at the time.

The performances are pretty much ideal. With Dorothee Mields and Hanna Zumsande we have two first-class sopranos, who have much experience in this kind of repertoire, and know exactly how to communicate the content of these cantatas. That comes not only to the fore in the arias, which receive excellent performances, but also in the recitatives, which are treated as what they are: little sermons on music. Poor Klaus Mertens has little to do here, but he is a sure foundation in the choruses and chorales, as always. The playing of the small ensemble also leaves nothing to be desired.

The cantatas are separated by fantasias for viola da gamba, from a set of twelve which for a long time were thought to be lost, but were rediscovered several years ago. They are available in a handful of recordings, but here they are nice additions to the programme. Simone Eckert delivers fine performances, showing that these pieces have more to offer than mere entertainment. Telemann demonstrates his mastership here as well as in the cantatas.

Johan van Veen

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