musica Dei donum
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Missa & Cantatas for Countertenor"
Alex Potter, altoa
Dir: Veronika Skuplik
rec: June 23 - 25, 2017, Grasberg (D), Evangelische Kirche
CPO - 555 192-2 (© 2019) (69'11")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht in deinem Zorn (TWV 7,1)ad;
Fuga V in d minor (TWV 30,5)d ;
Fuga XIX in G (TWV 30,19)d ;
Meines Bleibens ist nicht hier (TWV 1,1101) (Ich wand're fort)ad;
Missa in b minor (TWV 9,14)ad;
Me miserum! miseriarum (TWV 1,1135)ac;
Sonata for violin and bc in G (TWV 41,G1)bc 
 Six Sonates à violon seul, 1715;
 XX kleine Fugen, 1731
Veronika Skuplik (solob), Catherine Aglibut, violin;
Felix Knecht, cello;
Michael Fuerst, harpsichordc, organd
Discs with vocal music by Georg Philipp Telemann are released with increasing frequency. Most of them include pieces from his Hamburg period (1721-1767) or his time in Frankfurt (1712-1767), and especially some of his larger-scale works, such as the oratorios and the Donner-Ode are regularly performed. The present disc rather focuses on the early stages of his career, when he lived in Leipzig (1701-1705). There he was supposed to study law (which he did), but soon music won the upper hand and he increasingly devoted his time to composing and performing, the latter in his capacity as director of the Collegium Musicum.
The programme opens with a setting of Psalm 6, traditionally one of the penitential psalms, to be sung during Lent, but in Lutheran Germany such a tradition did not exist. This piece has the form of a sacred concerto, and reflects the style of the 17th century. It is comparable with the earliest cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht may well be one of Telemann's earliest works. Ute Poetzsch, in her liner-notes, states that "[this] composition may have been the one that Telemann brought to Leipzig as he began his studies there, found by musician roommates 'under my Scriptures' (Autobiography 1718) who organized a performance in St. Thomas Church". It includes strong contrasts, inspired by the text. Telemann has divided the Psalm in sections in such a way that he could give maximum attention to details in the text. After an instrumental introduction (here 2:30), the first verse - "O Lord, do not punish me in your rage, and do not chasten me in your wrath" - includes chromaticism. In the second section the word "schwach" (weak) is singled out and eloquently depicted. The word "erschrocken" (horrified) includes short pauses. This section ends with verse 6: "For in death nobody thinks of you; who will give thanks to you in hell?" Here the instruments play staccato, undoubtedly a reference to funeral bells. The third section opens with verse 7: "I am so weary from sighing", and inevitably Telemann makes use of sighing figures (Seufzer) here. The cantata ends as suddenly as the text says: "all my enemies (...) will come to harm suddenly". The voice and the instruments suddenly break off.
The Mass in b minor (in the same key as Bach's famous, but larger-scale Mass BWV 232) is a so-called missa brevis, as was common in some Lutheran churches: it comprises only Kyrie and Gloria. The Kyrie has an ABA structure. The Gloria opens with a plainchant intonation, and consists of a number of sections in contrasting style, either declamatory - with hints at the recitative - and more aria-like episodes. The Laudamus te section is dominated - not surprisingly - by ascending figures. This work also dates from Telemann's Leipzig period: here Latin still played a major role in the liturgy, as we also know from Bach's 'Lutheran masses'. Whereas Psalm 6 is one of Telemann's better-known works, this Mass is probably recorded here for the first time.
That certainly also goes for the third piece included here, Me miserum! miseriarum. This is a cantata, consisting of recitatives and arias. The text is from the pen of Erdmann Neumeister, an avid author of sacred texts, which Bach also used for his cantatas. It was originally written for Johann Philipp Krieger, who from 1680 until his death in 1725 was Kapellmeister in Weissenfels. The text was included in a collection of cantata librettos, published in 1702. It was reprinted in two other editions, the latter of which dates from 1716. It seems impossible to date this work; the liner notes do not mention the year of composition. It opens with a sinfonia in two sections, the second of which is a fugue and leads to the first secco recitative. This ends with an arioso section which includes a basso ostinato. This cantata is about distress as the result of sin. But as the protagonist remembers that "[a] single drop of the blood of Jesus Christ the Saviour pours out a thousand graces, (...) the happy soul gives eternal thanks to you". This spiritual journey is reflected in Telemann's setting of the text.
The programme ends with an aria from Meines Bleibens ist nicht hier, a cantata for the second Day of Easter. Again the text is from the pen of Erdmann Neumeister. Telemann set this text twice; the track-list gives TWV 1,1100 as the number in Telemann's catalogue, but according to the work-list in New Grove, this number refers to the setting from 1732, which is for four voices. Here we have the other setting, which is for alto, two violins and basso continuo. New Grove says it is from around 1720, but Poetzsch suggests that it may have been written in Leipzig. The texture of the aria included here is remarkable. The first section has much similarity with the longing for death, which we know from many of Bach's cantatas. "I journey along to my repose, to lay myself down in the grave". But "this word is a pledge of solace: you live, and I shall live". Here the music turns to an exclamation of joy. The second section is a recitative, which at the end turns to an arioso, which is again an expression of a longing for death: "Where I shall abide in peace, where I shall live in joy, while even today I wish to depart from here".
The vocal works are perfectly suited for Alex Potter, one of the best male altos of our time, who has given us so many beautiful readings of music by Bach and other baroque composers. He is very responsive to the text, and here he delivers incisive and moving performances of these fine works by Telemann. These are in no way inferior to those of Bach, and Potter emphasises their expressive nature through his excellent performances. In Psalm 6 I could imagine some stronger contrasts, especially in the instrumental parts. Veronika Skuplik is known for her rather restrained approach to music. This is perfectly legitimate, and it does in no way undermine the impact of this piece.
In between the vocal works we hear some instrumental items, which all date from later periods in Telemann's career. Skuplik plays one of his six sonatas for violin and basso continuo, which he published in his Frankfurt years. In recent years several recordings of these sonatas have been released, but it is hard to understand why it has taken so long, before their quality was recognized. The performance is immaculate. Michael Fuerst plays two of Telemann's fugues, which are not specifically intended for the organ, but do pretty well on such an instrument. The organ played here, in these fugues as well as in the basso continuo of the sacred works, is a large organ by Arp Schnitger. That is one of the assets of this disc, as the use of small organs in sacred works was not common in Telemann's days.
To sum up, this is a very interesting and musically compelling disc, which no lover of German music of this period should miss.
Johan van Veen (© 2019)