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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Moralische Cantaten

Benno Schachtner, alto
Hamburger Ratsmusik
Dir: Simone Eckert

rec: July 31 - August 3, 2017, Bremen, Radio Bremen (Sendesaal)
CPO - 555 141-2 (© 2018) (73'32")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Fantasias
Scores Moralische Cantaten

Das Glück (TWV 20,25); Die Falschheit (TWV 20,27); Die Hoffnung (TWV 20,24); Die Zeit (TWV 20,23); Der Geiz (TWV 20,26); Fantasia in d minor (TWV 40,36); Fantasia in G (TWV 40,31); Fantasia in g minor (TWV 40,32); Fantasia in A (TWV 40,33); Großmut (TWV 20,28)

Simone Eckert, viola da gamba; Ulrich Wedemeier, theorbo, guitar; Anke Dennert, harpsichord

Fantaisies pour la Basse de Violle, 1735; VI moralische Cantaten, 1735

A recording like the present one would not have been possible five years ago. It was known that Telemann had written twelve fantasias for viola da gamba solo, but these were considered being lost. In 2015 they were rediscovered, and since then several recordings of the entire set have been released. Here only four from this collection are performed, in between the six 'moral cantatas' which are the main subject of this disc.

It makes much sense to bring them together in one recording, because they were published at the same time. In 1735 Telemann announced their publication: "[The] Telemann press is bringing to light 12 fantasias for viola da gamba without bass and six German moral cantatas without instruments, such that two fantasias will appear on one Thursday and a cantata will appear on the next, in alternating fashion... Publication commences on 4 August. They will be distributed at the publisher's residence and at the music stall in the stock exchange." The cantatas and the fantasias were intended for both professional musicians (Kenner) and amateurs (Liebhaber). It seems that the cantatas found an enthusiastic reception, as Telemann soon announced the publication of another set, this time with the addition of a part for a melody instrument.

The set of 1735 was not the first in this category. Telemann did compose nineteen secular cantatas on a German text. The first set dates from 1731; they were recorded by Maria Jonas, Klaus Mertens and Les Amis de Philippe, directed by Ludger Rémy. Their subject is love, but they have a moral tenor which is comparable to the content of the cantatas recorded by Benno Schachtner and Hamburger Ratsmusik. Such cantatas are typical products of the Enlightenment. Part of this movement was the moral education of people, and these cantatas include the same kind of messages as the many periodicals which were published at that time.

It is notable that, whereas the structure is the same as that of Italian chamber cantatas (da capo arias, embracing a recitative), they have a German text. This is no coincidence; obviously the message could only be communicated through a text in the vernacular, as most of the people interested in this kind of music did not understand Italian. However, Telemann was also keen to contribute to the movement for restoring the German language to the position it had once in secular music. Towards the end of the 17th century, it became gradually overshadowed by the Italian cantata. In the 1730s the first attempts were made to revive the German song. Telemann contributed to it with his Oden of 1741, but although the cantatas are of a different genre, the use of the German language is telling. The texts are taken from a collection of librettos by the Berlin poet, theologian and philosopher Daniel Stoppe. Telemann used only parts of his texts, and made some alterations himself. Only Die Falschheit is from another source, which has not been identified to date.

The fact that Stoppe was also a theologian could explain why some texts include clear references to the Bible. That is the case, for instance, in the second aria from Die Zeit (Time): "Drive, ride, play cards, (...) seek amusement and entertainment (...). Have a good time, but know that someday you'll be called into account and have to answer for your fun! So remain within bounds, and mark well the proper limits". This is what Ecclesiastes (ch 11, vs 9) has to say: "You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment." Such references are also to find in Der Geiz (Avarice), in which an avaricious man is warned that the wealth he has gathered, will be squandered by his heirs after his death.

In Die Falschheit (Falsehood) the recitative includes an operatic element. Two characters are presented: Philidor and Stax. They bid each other goodnight, "they kiss, they embrace", but "soon we'll go to know them better". "Slink after the two of them! O woe, what one doesn't hear! From door to door Philidor loudly declares that Stax is a filthy liar since what he has to say about him is that he's the worst villain." This is one example of the humorous traits in these cantatas.

Telemann misses no opportunity to illustrate the text. In the opening aria from Die Zeit the word "satt" (yet will never have her fill) is set to melismas, and "Scherz" (amusement) and "lacht" (laugh) in the second aria are illustrated by repeated notes. In the first aria of Der Geiz Telemann uses dissonances on the words "poorest beggar". The second aria from Das Glück (Luck) says: "So in the meantime, dear luck, do sleep, but don't sleep too long". Telemann's setting has all the traits of an operatic sleep aria. The slow tempo in the opening aria from Die Falschheit is perfectly suited to depict the text: "Let me complain about falsity, which sickens to the soul's quick".

Benno Schachtner is the perfect interpreter here. He explores the text to the full, and is not afraid to add something of his own to what Telemann has written. It is all within the boundaries of what is stylistically tenable. He really brings these cantatas to life, and the humorous aspects are not lost on him either. It is nice to hear that the recitatives are performed in a true speechlike manner, with just the right amount of rhythmic freedom.

The fantasias for viola da gamba were part of a series of such works for different instruments which Telemann published between 1732 and 1735, the others being for transverse flute, violin and harpsichord respectively. The fantasias for viola da gamba were dedicated to the Hamburg banker and businessman Pierre Chaunel. He was the son of Huguenot immigrants from Montpellier who had fled France because of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which put them in danger of being persecuted. Chaunel himself was born in Altona which included a strong French Reformed congregation. He was an important man in Hamburg; in 1736 he was the city's largest importer. He must have been close to Telemann as it is known that he had purchased several of his compositions and was one of the subscribers to the collections Musique de table and the 'Paris' quartets of 1738.

The fact that Telemann wrote these fantasias is remarkable, considering that the viola da gamba was in the process of becoming obsolete. Although they include traits of the then popular galant idiom, they also include a considerable amount of counterpoint. The four fantasias performed here are all in three movements. Simone Eckert delivers fine performances which demonstrate the quality of these fantasias.

All in all, this disc is another important addition to the growing Telemann discography. Telemann lovers will be very happy with it.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Beno Schachtner
Hamburger Ratsmusik

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