musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Christmas Cantatas II"

Miriam Feuersinger, soprano; Franz Vitzthum, alto; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass
Collegium vocale Siegen; Hannoversche Hofkapelle
Dir: Ulrich Stötzel

rec: Feb 21 - 22, 2017, Siegen, Martinikirche'
CPO - 555 166-2 (© 2017) (54'12")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Du Tochter Zion, freue dich sehr (TWV 1,407); Ist Gott versöhnt und unser Freund (TWV 1,946); Uns ist ein Kind geboren (TWV 1,1454)

In recent years Georg Philipp Telemann has become one of the most frequently-recorded composers of the baroque era. His instrumental music, and especially his chamber music, is still the best-known part of his oeuvre, but his vocal music also enjoys an increasing popularity. The number of discs devoted to that part of his output attests to that. Unfortunately performers often take quite some liberties with regard to what we know about the number of performers Telemann had at his disposal. The present disc is an example of that.

The three cantatas for the Christmas period recorded by Ulrich Stötzel, were published in 1749. They are part of the annual cycle of 1748/49, known as the 'Angel cycle', because the published edition had a decorative figure on the lower half of the title page, which resembled a cupid but was also perceived as an angel. The texts are from the pen of Daniel Stoppe (1697-1747), a poet from Hirschberg, who had written texts for Telemann before, such as the six Moralische Kantaten (1735). However, Stoppe died before the cycle was finished, and the remaining texts are by an unknown poet.

Two features of the Angel cycle are notable. Firstly, they have an identical structure. They comprise two arias embracing a recitative. The cantatas either open with a dictum, a quotation from the Bible, set for tutti, which is repeated at the end, or open and close with a chorale setting. Secondly, the scoring is very modest: solo voice, two violins and basso continuo; in some cantatas Telemann adds other instruments, such as the trumpets in the pieces on the present disc. The announcement of the cycle in the newspaper Hamburgischer Correspondent specifically mentioned the possibility to omit the tutti sections. This way the cantatas could also be performed in domestic surroundings, like the cantatas from the collection Harmonischer Gottesdienst.

Taking this into account the line-up in the present recording is hardly tenable. The booklet does not mention the size of the string section, but I am sure there are more than two violins taking part here. The choir is pretty large, and that has a damaging effect on the balance between the solo voices and the choir in the opening choruses which include some solo sections. Moreover, in the tutti sections the texts are very hard to understand.

That does not mean that this disc does not deserve to be welcomed. The cantatas have much to offer, and the recitatives and arias are very well sung.

Du Tochter Zion, freue dich sehr is a cantata for the first Sunday of Advent. It opens with a chorus on a text from the prophet Sacharia (ch 9, vs 9): "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem". Many readers will recognize this text from Handel's Messiah. Soprano and bass act as precentors: they open the proceedings and their lines are imitated by the tutti. The first aria is for soprano, who is accompanied by two violins and basso continuo. It lends this piece an intimate character, which suits the text: "Come, my king! Come, my treasure! Choose my heart to be your throne!". The second aria, following a recitative for alto, is quite different. The bass is accompanied by two trumpets, timpani, two violins and basso continuo. This results in the aria's martial character, inspired by the text: "Take off the proud coak that cover's Adam's sin and nakedness".

Next follows a cantata for New Year's Day, Ist Gott versöhnt und unser Freund. The fact that this is the start of a new year hardly plays a role here; it is only mentioned in the closing chorale (the sixth stanza of Helft mir Gott's Güte preisen; Paul Eber, c1580): "[Give] us a joyful year, protect us from all suffering and feed us gently." The free text is rather connected to the Epistle of the day, which is from Paul's letter to the Galatians (ch 3): Through faith we are heirs by promise. That is expressed in the first aria: "The blood of little Jesus will satisfy the Law". The aria begins with the words: "Be still, nagging conscience!" This is illustrated by tremolo figures in the violins. The B section ends on a long note, depicting the last line: "[For] my heart is at ease and secure". After a recitative the second aria has an uplifing character, partly due to the dotted rhythm: "Who shall take heaven from me, now that I am assured it through Jesus's blood?" Whereas the chorales which open and close the cantata are for four voices, the recitative and the arias are for bass; in the arias he is accompanied by the two violins and basso continuo.

Uns ist ein Kind geboren is for the first Christmas Day, and - as one may expect - the instrumental scoring includes parts for two trumpets; as was common practice at the time timpani are also involved. The cantata opens with a tutti section on the well-known text from Isaiah (ch 9, vs 9): "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given". This first line is sung by two pairs of solo voices: soprano/alto and tenor/bass respectively. The tutti enter at the second line: "[And] the government shall be upon his shoulder". The first aria is a song of praise, sung by the bass: "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord". The ensuing soprano recitative is followed by an aria for the tenor: "Only now do I look forward to that future life, for God has given me his Child". The cantata ends with a repeat of the opening chorus.

I have nothing but praise for the contributions of the soloists. Miriam Feuersinger is wonderful in the aria in the first cantata. Georg Poplutz is a seasoned interpreter of this kind of repertoire, and that shows in his aria in the last cantata. The largest contribution comes from Klaus Mertens, who is as convincing as ever. His treatment of the text is exemplary, and every syllable is clearly intelligible. He knows exactly what to do to bring the message of an aria across. Franz Vitzthum has just one recitative to sing. His and the other recitatives are sung well, but probably a bit too strict in time.

Despite my reservations with regard to the line-up, especially in the tutti sections, I urge anyone to investigate this disc, which is another fine addition to the catalogue of music for the Christmas period. Telemann has written some wonderful music, and I am certain that you will enjoy what is on offer here.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Miriam Feuersinger
Klaus Mertens
Georg Poplutz
Franz Vitzthum
Collegium vocale Siegen
Hannoversche Hofkapelle

CD Reviews