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Telemann serenata 5553002
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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767)
Liebe, was ist schöner als die Liebe? - Wedding Serenata
Liebe, was ist schöner als die Liebe? (TWV 11,26)/ [47:15]
Lieben will ich (TWV 20,21) [14:38]
Der Weiberorden (TWV 20,49) [13:53]
Julia Kirchner (soprano), Georg Poplutz (tenor)
La Stagione Frankfurt/Michael Schneider
rec. May 2019, Pallas of the Wartburg, Eisenach, Germany
Texts and translations included
CPO 555 300-2 [76:17]

Composers who played a key role in musical life in a particular town were not only expected to provide music for official occasions, but were often also commissioned to write music for occasions in the life of private citizens, such as weddings and wedding anniversaries. That was also the case with Georg Philipp Telemann, first in Frankfurt and then in Hamburg. Section 11 in the catalogue of his works comprises 32 wedding cantatas and serenatas. Only ten of them have been preserved. This can be explained by the fact that such pieces obviously could only be used once. Then why would a composer preserve them?

One of the wedding serenatas that has come down to us is the main work on the disc under review. The three works have one thing in common: they are all about love. This was the main subject of secular music anyway, but it seems that at least one of the other two pieces was also written for a wedding. In the case of Liebe, was ist schöner als die Liebe, the occasion is clearly revealed in the recitative that precedes the closing duet: "Let's move to the honoured bridal couple, whom we celebrate today, and try to entertain them as best as we can, by offering them one last wish to complete our music". It brings to an end a dispute between two characters, Ametas (soprano) and Crito (tenor). Eric F. Fiedler, in his liner-notes, seems to suggest that the former is a woman, but that is not the case as once Ametas refers to his "Mägdgen", correctly translated as his girlfriend. It is the end of a dialogue about the pros and cons of marriage. The piece opens with a French overture in the usual ABA form, which is followed by a sequence of recitatives and arias. First Ametas expresses his view that there is nothing more beautiful than love. Crito laughs it off ("I must laugh") in an aria in which his laughing is vividly depicted. Why would a man put his peace and quiet in chains? A man must remain insensitive to beauty, "even if it be of Venus herself". Ametas then argues that "the joking of the hearts, the play of the eyes, the play of the hands freshens, delights and comforts us without end". Crito is unimpressed: "Freedom is my treasure, and I am married to it". Ametas says that it is nice to understand and to please each other, as he experiences with his girlfriend. But Crito warns him: "But just you wait, you'll be singing another tune, when, before you notice it, she has the trousers on". Crito then dwells on which woman he would prefer, if he should decide to marry. His characterisation of various women is not very complimentary: "Smart ones would try to boss me around, stupid ones are like animals". His considerations are infuriating Ametas, who reacts with a rage aria, preceded by a march: "Insulted beauties, arm yourselves, take scissors, take needles, take up forks and knives. Storm the tyrants with stabbing and pinching". Crito, upset by this strong reaction, softens his position: "If you ask me again in confidence, then you may hear something else entirely". Telemann, in his first autobiography (1718), mentions that he has written more than twenty 'dramas' during his Frankfurt years. This seems to refer to his wedding pieces, as in his second biography he mentions "about 20 wedding musics", for which he also wrote the lyrics. It is therefore reasonable to assume that this piece was also written in Frankfurt, and that the lyrics are of his own pen. He later more or less distanced himself from this part of his oeuvre, as the texts of these pieces were "rather too spicy" and took "too many liberties", which "I would today probably not care to repeat". The instrumental scoring is for oboe, strings and basso continuo. In one aria we also hear a recorder, whose participation must be the decision of Michael Schneider, who plays it himself.

The other two works are solo cantatas. Lieben will ich is taken from a collection of six 'moral cantatas', published in 1731. They were referred to as 'galant' cantatas, and that is mainly because of the subject of love which all cantatas are about. But their tenor is clearly of a moral nature. In the beginning of the cantata a situation is depicted, usually connected to the protagonist of the cantata. Next it is described how that situation is solved, usually through reason, and the concluding aria expresses the moral lesson. In Lieben will ich the protagonist seems more or less to take the same position as Crito in the serenata: "I want to love, but my heart forbids me to commit". However, the singer plays different roles in this cantata, very much in the manner of the Italian chamber cantata. In the ensuing recitative he acts as a narrator, who mentions that Seladon approaches Silvia, who rejects him. When he throws himself down at her feet and begs her to say yes, she regards him with scorn and departs. The narrator then tells that she marries another, but her husband turns out to be a tyrant and his wealth to be an illusion. "In short: she was betrayed". Seladon then hardly can hide his satisfaction at her fate: "The storm has subsided, my heart, what more do you need? Just being able to talk about it is soothing to my soul as if it were honey". The instrumental scoring in the collection is for strings and basso continuo, with several obbligato parts for transverse flute, recorder, oboe or violin; in this cantata it is the oboe. Although in this recording the solo part is performed by a tenor, Telemann only indicates high or low voice for these cantatas. Apparently they were widely sold. The entire collection has been recorded by Maria Jonas and Klaus Mertens, with Les Amis de Philippe, directed by Ludger Rémy (review), and the liner notes to that disc give several quotations of contemporaries who expressed their admiration for these cantatas.

The second cantata, scored for soprano, strings and basso continuo, is called Der Weiberorden - "The Women's Order". Here the protagonist looks forward to being married: "Begone, hateful virginity". In the ensuing recitative she looks forward to her first child. This is followed by an aria in the form of a lullaby, including motifs that we know from Christmas lullabies. It is in three sections; in the last the protagonist refers to a second child. In a recitative she then urges the bridesmaids to follow her example and "find a man". The closing aria says: "Hey, wouldn't it be fun if you all got married". An interesting question, not discussed in the booklet, is how serious a piece like this has to be taken. The text was from the pen of the poet Christian Friedrich Hunold, who "succeeded, in the course of his short life, in scandalizing a large proportion of the more conservative citizenry of Leipzig and Hamburg" (booklet).

Through this disc we become acquainted with a lesser-known side of Telemann's oeuvre. It completes our picture of the composer, and also adds something to our knowledge of the time. It is notable that here, in music of relatively little weight, Telemann does not betray his qualities as a creative composer. He took his task of writing music for a special occasion seriously. Especially the serenata is a good example of his skills in the musical illustration of a text. In Ametas's rage aria opera is not far away. The performances are quite good. Julia Kircher and Georg Poplutz are a good match in the serenata, in which the interaction between the two is just as it should be. Poplutz, whom we know mainly as a performer of sacred music, does well in the solo cantata, and in the serenata he succesfully demonstrates his less serious side. Julia Fischer seems to have considerable talent in the dramatic department as well, and is entirely convincing in the probably tongue-in-cheek cantata. I just wish she should have used a little less vibrato. The playing of La Stagione Frankfurt is as good as we have come to expect.

This is a nice disc, which any Telemann lover may wish to add to his collection.

Johan van Veen

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