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Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Oratorium zum Johannisfest TVWV 1:602/1216
Oratorium zum Sonntag Misericordias Domini TVWV 1:123
Rahel Maas (soprano), Elena Harsányi (soprano), Elvira Bill (alto), Mirko Ludwig (tenor), André Morsch (baritone), Klaus Mertens (bass baritone), Mauro Borgioni (bass)
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. 2020, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, Germany
Booklet with libretti and commentary in German and English included
CPO 555 271-2 [79]

Georg Philipp Telemann’s music is overshadowed by that of his contemporaries, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Händel, and Antonio Vivaldi. One reason might be that no piece by Telemann has made its way into popular culture in the way that aspects of the Brandenburg Concertos, Messiah, or Le quattro stagioni have done. Being less well known does not equate with inferiority, however. Telemann’s music may not contain instantly recognisable melodies, but it is immensely satisfying to listeners with interests in the Baroque period. Indeed knowledge of Telemann enriches our appreciation of his friend Bach, in particular, by situating him in context. Some of their mutual influences and colleagues included Heinrich Schütz, Dietrich Buxtehude, Jan Lukáš Zelenka, and Johann Adolph Hasse.

The Johannis-Oratorium (‘Gelobet sei der Herr’) and the Oratorium zum Sonntag Misericordias Domini (‘Bequemliches Leben, gemächlicher Stand’), presented on this disc, may be the first recordings of these two oratorios, which Telemann composed for performance during the church year 1730/31. In the first of these, a 53-minute work for the Feast of St. John, soloists and a choir relate the story of the Israelites’ flight from Egypt, adapted from the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible, with reflections on its meaning for Christians. The slighter oratorio for Misericordias Domini narrates the tale of a ‘Guter Hirte’ (good shepherd), who sacrifices his life to save the flock of sheep from a wolf, and a group of ‘Mietlinge’ (hired workers), whose only concerns are their wages and saving themselves.

Throughout the proceedings, the period-instrument Kölner Akademie under the direction of Michael Alexander Willens plays with attention to detail and enthusiasm for this unfamiliar repertoire by a major composer. The vocal soloists and choir articulate the text with passion and clarity. All those involved make a persuasive case for expanding interest in Telemann’s vast output beyond the Tafelmusik and a handful of cantatas and instrumental concerti.

CPO has packaged this disc in a plastic jewel case with a 44-page bilingual booklet featuring a high-quality reproduction of Johann Jacob Besserer’s painting ‘Die Israeliten nach dem Durchzug durch das Roten Meer’ (The Israelites after the passage through the Red Sea). Artwork depicting themes that correspond to some of the music lends the same type of intellectual value to Classical recordings that book publishers lavish on literature.

Daniel Floyd

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