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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "'O woe! O woe! My canary is dead!' - Secular Cantatas & Overtures"

Dorothee Mields, sopranoa
Bach Concentus
Dir: Ewald Demeyere

rec: Feb 2009, Antwerp, AMUZ
Accent - ACC 24199 ( 2009) (78'55")

Cantate oder Trauer-Music eines kunsterfahrenen Canarien-Vogels (TWV 20,37)a; Der Weiber-Orden, cantata (TWV 20,49)a; Ouverture in C (TWV 55,C2); Ouverture in C 'La Bouffonne' (TWV 55,C5); Ouverture burlesque in B flat (TWV 55,B8)

Although in recent years Telemann's vocal works have been gradually discovered, his activities in the field of opera are still hardly explored. It is not just that he composed a considerable number of operas, he also showed his instinct for the theatre in other compositions, like cantatas and overtures. A number of orchestral overtures have nicknames. It could well be, as Ewald Demeyere writes in the liner notes, that these titles are not given by Telemann himself, they nevertheless reflect the nature of the overtures quite well.

This disc contains three overtures, two of which have titles. The two cantatas fit into the programme as they also have a theatrical character, especially the Cantate oder Trauer-Music eines kunsterfahrenen Canarien-Vogels (Cantata or Funeral music for a canary experienced in art). It is a combination of tragedy and comedy: it begins with a plaintive aria, full of Seufzer, in which the protagonist laments about the death of his canary: "O woe! O woe! My canary is dead. To whom can I cry in my distress, to whom can I cry about my bitter pain?" The next recitative states that the fate of the canary is typical of this world: "the joy fades with the pain". In the following aria the protagonist urges the canaries to "mourn my joy and your beauty". The next recitative begins with an ode on the virtues of the canary, but then Death is cursed because he has "roughly and boldly devoured the precious mouthful".
This is followed by an operatic rage aria: "Feed, so that thy throat swells up, eat, thou outrageous guest! (...) Feed and burst on the spot!". In the next recitative and aria the canary is bid farewell. The cantata ends with another recitative in which the bird is laid to rest, and then the protagonist sings what should be on the tombstone. The text is in dialect - I assume plattdeutsch - : "May the devil take thee! Here lies a bird, who could sing so beautifully, and bring joy to everyone. Grim reaper, thou! Because thou would'st feed this little bird, I want to strangle thee!"

Dorothee Mields gives a fine performance of this cantata, and tries to express the various emotions in the text. But in my view she doesn't quite have what it takes to really explore the theatrical character of this piece. Many years ago I heard it in a performance by Max van Egmond; in particular the rage aria came better off. I have to say that it is also due to the acoustics in which the fortes tend to evaporate and lose some of their impact. This is also effecting the performances of the orchestral suites.

The disc opens with the Ouverture in C 'La Bouffonne', scored for strings and bc. The title means 'joker' or 'jester', and this is reflected in the second movement, a loure, which contains continuous small appoggiaturas, and in the next movement, 'Les Boiteux' (the cripples), depicted by octave leaps. The overture ends with a 'pastorelle' which bears the traits of so many pastoral pieces of the baroque era but it is spiced with some unusual harmonic progressions.
The disc ends with the Ouverture burlesque in B flat, again scored for strings and bc. The title - more than once used by Telemann for compositions - refers to the commedia dell'arte and several of its characters turn up in the various movements: Scaramouches (a buffoon), Harlequin, Columbina, Pierrot and Mezzetino. Telemann is a master of special effects in order to portray the characters in his overtures.
Although the Bach Concentus is a fine ensemble and plays these overtures beautifully, I think more could be made of these special effects. Ewald Demeyere could take a bit from the way Nikolaus Harnoncourt explored these effects in his recording - with his ensemble Concentus musicus Wien - of the so-called Darmstadt Overtures (recently reissued on Teldec).

In the middle of this disc is an overture of a different kind, the Ouverture in C, which is scored for oboe, strings and bc. Unlike the scoring suggests there is no solo part for the oboe. It is suggested this overture was at first written for strings and bc alone, and the part of the oboe was added at a later date. Remarkable is the 'air' which is scored for oboe and bc. It is given a fine performance by the oboist. I can't give the name, as the booklet doesn't list the personnel of the ensemble. Whereas this movement is lyrical in character, in the last movement, 'Les Trompettes', the oboe imitates the trumpet.

Lastly, another cantata. Die Weiber-Orden (The Order of Women) portrays a young woman who expresses her joy of being married shortly. She looks forward to having a baby, and in the second aria she speaks to her future babyboy. Here Telemann asks the strings to use bow vibrato, suggesting the rocking of the child. The three stanzas of this strophic aria are followed by a ritornello which is reminiscent of Christmas music.
This cantata is less theatrical, and of a more intimate nature, and Dorothee Mields is completely at home here. I assume this is the first recording of this piece, and shows a rather unknown aspect of Telemann's oeuvre.

Despite my critical remarks I enjoyed this disc as it again shows the versatility and inexhaustible creativity of Telemann. It is a worthwhile addition to the fast-growing discography of Telemann's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

Relevant links:

Bach Concentus


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