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Georg Philipp TELEMANN: Cantatas and sonatas

[I] Cantatas & Sonatas
Dorothee Mields, soprano; Stefan Temmingh, recorder; Domen Marincic, treble & bass viol; Daniel Rosin, cello; Wiebke Weidanz, harpsichord
rec: Feb 26 - 28, 2020, Munich-Sendling, Himmelfahrtskirche
Accent - ACC 24371 (© 2020) (59'16")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Du bist verflucht, o Schreckensstimme, cantata for high voice, recorder and bc (TWV 1,385) [2]; In gering- und rauhen Schalen, cantata for high voice, recorder and bc (TWV 1,941) [2]; Locke nur, Erde, mit schmeichelndem Reize, cantata for high voice, recorder and bc (TWV 1,1069) [2]; Sonata for recorder, bass viol and bc in F (TWV 42,F3) [5]; Sonata for recorder, treble viol and bc in d minor (TWV 42,d7); Sonata for recorder, treble viol and bc in g minor (TWV 42,g9); Sonatina for recorder[/bassoon/cello] and bc in a minor (TWV 41,a4) [4]

[II] "Abscheuliche Tiefe" (Darkest depths)
Ensemble Chameleon
Dir: Jennifer Harris
rec: Sept 2017, Haardt, Protestantische Kirche
Ambitus - amb 95 602 (70'48")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Abscheuliche Tiefe des großen Verderbens, cantata for middle voice, transverse flute [violin], [violetta/]bassoon and bc (TWV 1,1); Der Tag des Gerichts, Singgedicht for four voices and orchestra (TWV 6,8) (Ich aber schwinge mich empor, arioso [2. Betrachtung]); Die Glut des Zorns, cantata for low voice, violin, [violin II/cello/]bassoon and bc (TWV 1,338a); Ino, cantata for soprano and orchestra (TWV 20,41) (Wohin? Wo soll ich hin?, rec - Ungöttliche Saturnia, aria - O all' ihr Mächte des Olympus, rec); Sonata for [recorder/]bassoon and bc in f minor (TWV 41,f1) [3]; Sonata for violin, bassoon and bc in B flat (TWV 42,B5)*; Sonata for violin, [cello/]bassoon and bc in F (TWV 42,F1) [1]; Sonatina for [recorder/]bassoon[/cello] and bc in c minor (TWV 41,c2) [4]; Sonatina for [recorder/]bassoon[/cello] and bc in a minor (TWV 41,a4) [4]

*The number in the track-list (42,B6) is incorrect.

Gerlinde Sämann, soprano; Rachel Harris, violin.; Ulrike Becker, viola da gamba, cello; Barbara Messmer, viola da gamba, violone; Jennifer Harris, bassoon; Andrea Baur, theorbo, guitar; Evelyn Laib, harpsichord

Sources: [1] Six Trio, 1718; [2] Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst, 1725/26; [3] Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728/29; [4] Neue Sonatinen, 1730/31; [5] Essercizii Musici, 1739/40


Georg Philipp Telemann was certainly one of the most innovative composers of his time. He followed each new trend very closely, partly because much of his (chamber) music was intended for amateurs and he wanted to offer them what was 'hot'. Due to his long life, it is possible to illustrate the aesthetic developments during the 18th century with specimens from his oeuvre. In his early days, he wrote music which is reminiscent of the 17th century, whereas in the last stage of his life, he points in the direction of the classical style. Let's not forget that when Telemann died, in 1767, Haydn was already 35 years old.

Taking into account that he was an innovator, it is remarkable that in the course of his life, he continued to write music for two instruments, which had their heydays in the 17th century: the recorder and the viola da gamba. In the case of the recorder, this was certainly inspired by the fact that, although the transverse flute grew in popularity, especially among amateurs, many of these still owned and liked to play the recorder. As far as the viola da gamba is concerned, its prominent place in Telemann's oeuvre is undoubtedly due to his general preference for the French style, of which the viol was such a typical exponent.

Two things are specially noteworthy in this respect. First, Telemann composed a remarkable number of pieces for both instruments, despite their different character and pitch. They attest to Telemann's liking of unusual combinations of instruments in his music. Second, in some of his sonatas one of the upper parts is intended for the treble viol. This instrument was part of the consort of viols, which was so popular during the 16th and early 17th centuries, in particular in England, but had become obsolete in the course of the 17th century. However, in France the dessus de viole experienced a kind of comeback in the 18th century, and some German composers who had a weak spot for the French style, embraced this trend and started to compose for it. Among them were Telemann, but also his colleague Johann Melchior Molter. Three specimens of chamber music for recorder and viola da gamba, either the treble viol or the bass viol, are included in the recording released by Accent. Another feature of Telemann's compositional style manifests itself in two of them. The closing movements of the Sonata in d minor and the Sonata in g minor include elements of folk music.

Although Telemann was a productive composer of instrumental music of all kinds, he valued church music the most, and his sacred music is larger in size than his instrumental output, as he himself emphasized. Whereas a large part of his chamber music was printed, most of his sacred works have come down to us in manuscript. An important exception is the collection of cantatas he published under the title of Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst. The reason was that these cantatas were not only intended for ecclesiastical use, but also for domestic music making. This explains the modest scoring: one solo voice, one melody instrument and basso continuo. The voice type is not specified: cantatas are either for high or for middle voice. The instrumental parts are for then common instruments: recorder, transverse flute, oboe and violin. However, taking into account Telemann's pragmatic approach to scoring, it was certainly possible to use a different instrument than prescribed. Telemann even suggested purely instrumental performances.

In these cantatas, which are all intended for a specific Sunday or feast-day of the ecclesiastical year, Telemann proves that he was a master in the musical illustration of a text. The three cantatas included here offer some striking examples. In Du bist verflucht, o Schreckensstimme, the words "verflucht" (accursed) and "verdammt" (damned) are repeated several times, in order to emphasize them. The words "Schreckensstimme" (voice of terror) and "Donnerwort" (word of tunder) are also stressed; in one passage, the keyboard has to keep silent on the former word, and then to enter on the latter. Towards the end of the A section, the word "Donnerwort" is sung to a chromatic figure. The second aria is different in content, and the opening word, "Frohlocket" (rejoice) is set to ascending coloratura. There are long melismas to illustrate the word "Fessel" (fetters [of bondage]). The two arias are separated by a recitative. This is the basic texture of all cantatas in this collection: aria, recitative, aria. The recitatives are different in length: in this cantata it is the longest of the three sections, and is a theological exposition of the classical Christian doctrines about sin and redemption.

In the other two cantatas, the recitatives are shorter. The opening aria of Locke nur, Erde is about the wish of the protagonist to follow "my Saviour's cross". This is not considered a heavy burden, which explains the ascending figures. The recorder imitates here the voice, which is a graphic illustration of the concept of 'following'. In the B part the protagonist expresses the wish to follow Jesus "in all I do". The German text uses here the word "Wandel" - literally: "walking", and this is illustrated by a walking bass. The last line of the B part says: "until there my body resemble His". Here the German text has the word "gleicht" (equals), and this is depicted by voice and recorder both closing on the C, one octave apart. In the second aria, the phrase "Forsake the building of your earthly dwellings" is illustrated by the basso continuo keeping silent. On the phrase "Come, follow in your Saviour's footsteps" the recorder imitates the voice again.

In the opening aria of In gering- und rauhen Schalen, the key words are "der Perlen Silberschein" (the silver sparkle of the pearls), which is eloquently depicted by long runs in the recorder and the vocal part. The recitative is notable for the insertion of arioso passages. This way Telemann expresses the contrast between human thinking and biblical teaching, for instance: "[When] insolently he moves towards your gifts, remember that they do not come from you" - "[All] gifts are granted by the sea of God's sagacity".

There is no lack of recordings of Telemann's music, and some are better than others. Over the years I have heard many very good recordings, but among them this particular disc has to be reckoned among the very best. Stefan Temmingh is an outstanding recorder player, who sometimes can go a little over the top, but here he is on his best behaviour, and delivers excellent performances of the recorder parts, both in the sonatas and in the cantatas. In the latter he obviously has carefully studied the texts and the way Telemann has translated them into his music. With Domen Marincic he has found the ideal partner in the trio sonatas. I have seldom heard such engaging performances of these pieces.

And then we have Dorothee Mields, one of the most busy sopranos in the field of early music. I have not always enjoyed her recordings, especially those in which she collaborated with performers and ensembles who don't care that much about historical performance practice. But the way she sings the three cantatas here can hardly be surpassed. Every detail in the text is explored; these are truly rhetorical performances. The recitatives are quite impressive; this is the way the baroque recitative should be sung, and one would wish many of her colleagues would listen carefully and learn from it. Mields turns them into sermons, and that is exactly how they are meant.

In short, this is a superb disc in every respect.

The second disc also offers a mixture of sonatas and cantatas, but here the bassoon is the key instrument. However, there is a second connection to the previous disc: for all the sonatas for bassoon played by Jennifer Harris, Telemann offers the recorder as an alternative. This may well be an indication that only a few amateurs were able to play the bassoon.

The bassoon was probably not the reason that Harris called her disc 'Abscheuliche Tiefe', which is also the title of one of the cantatas on the programme. Translated, it means "abominable depth" (on its website, the ensemble calls this programme "Darkest depths"). Jennifer Harris constructed the programme with the intention of creating a kind of drama. "I have created my own drama in concert form with which to show the epic nature which baroque drama can have. The beginning: Ino's desperation to protect her and her son from Athamas, which leads her to the extreme action of jumping off a cliff into the sea far below, is the catalyst for what follows, a musical depiction of (ours, and the protagonist's) reaction to this event, a questioning of her actions as well as an emotional commentary". This is probably hard to communicate to the listener. At least, I haven't experienced this programme in this way. The fact that Ino is a purely secular work, whereas the two cantatas are sacred, does not make it any more convincing. The extraction of a fragment from this dramatic cantata as well as the isolation of a single arioso from Der Tag des Gerichts towards the end is rather unsatisfying.

The bassoon may have something to do with the character of the programme after all. Due to its low tessitura it is an ideal tool to illustrate depth, abominable or not. Fact is that all three bassoon sonatas are in the minor. The extract from Ino is followed by the Sonata in f minor, which fittingly opens with a movement with the indication triste. The role of the trios is less obvious. They belong among the lesser-known pieces in the programme. That also goes for the two cantatas, which is not surprising, considering the huge size of Telemann's production in the field of sacred music. Both comprise two dacapo arias, embracing a short recitative, and in that respect they are not umlike the cantatas from the Harmonischer Gottesdienst.

Abscheuliche Tiefe des großen Verderbens is for the Sunday after Christmas; the voice is joined by transverse flute (here a violin), violetta or bassoon and basso continuo. It goes without saying that words as "depth", "damnation" and "stubborn" [world] are set to low notes, in strong contrast to the high tessitura of "Heaven places Jesus as the cornerstone of life". Telemann also does not miss the opportunity to illustrate "stumbles", "topples" and "falls". The second aria refers to various weather conditions: "When storms tear through the air, when thunders roll, floods roar", and this is illustrated by runs in the two instrumental parts, in particular that of the bassoon. But the peace of the protagonist remains "quite unmoved", set to a long-held note.

Die Glut des Zorns is for the sixth Sunday after Trinity, and again the soprano is joined by two instruments: the first part is for violin, and for the second Telemann offers three options: bassoon, cello or a second violin, played an octave higher. The opening of the text - "The embers of wrath, the fire of revenge scorch even the fires of hell" - are depicted in the instrumental parts, first in the violin, and then in the bassoon. The voice then illustrates the "fires of hell" with a long melisma turning into florid figuration. The second aria urges for "penance without delay" and to "fall at God's feet" - obviously here Telemann uses a descending figure, followed by a rising figure at the words "stand up!" In the B section the tempo is increased from "why so weary" to "hurry faster". The two instruments play largely at high speed during this section.

Gerlinde Sämann is the perfect interpreter of these cantatas, who pulls out all the stops in the dramatic passages. In the extract from Ino she does full justice to its dramatic character too, but uses a bit too much vibrato, which is largely absent in the sacred pieces. Jennifer Harris is the engaged interpreter of the bassoon parts. It is nice that we get three sonatas for bassoon, an instrument which was not frequently used as a solo instrument in the baroque era, for reasons I mentioned above. Two of the sonatas are from the Neue Sonatinen; their date of composition is not known, but they could be identical with some works Telemann advertised in 1731. Four of the six sonatinas are for violin, two for recorder, bassoon or cello.

Despite some issues, this is another fine Telemann disc, and a worthy addition to any collection of baroque music.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Stefan Temmingh
Ensemble Chameleon

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