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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Easter Cantatas"

Johanna Winkel, sopranoacde; Margot Oitzinger, contraltoacde; Georg Poplutz, tenor; Peter Kooij, bass
Kölner Akademie
Dir: Michael Alexander Willens

rec: Nov 17 - 20, 2020, Wuppertal, Immanuelskirche
CPO - 555 425-2 (© 2021) (71'40")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Brannte nicht unser Herz in uns (TWV 1,131)a; Er ist auferstanden (TWV 1,460)b; Ich war tot, und siehe, ich bin lebendig (TWV 1,872)c; Triumph! Ihr Frommen freuet euch (TWV 1,1424)d; Verlass doch einst, o Mensch (TWV 1,1470)e

Hannes Rux Brachtendorf, Astrid Brachtendorf, Marc Demi, trumpet; Antoio de Sarlo, Bruno van Esseveld, Katarina Todorovic, Iris Maron, Yeyoung Hwang, Viliana Bobeva, violin; Rafael Roth, viola; Albert Brüggen, cello; Thomas Falke, double bass; Willi Kronenberg, harpsichord, organ

During the many years that I am reviewing recordings of early music, I have seen the number of productions with music by Georg Philipp Telemann growing with the year. Right now he is one of the most frequently-recorded composers of the baroque period. About twenty years ago it was mostly his instrumental music that was performed and recorded. Since then, performers have recognized the quality of his vocal oeuvre, including his many church cantatas. However, if I look at my CD collection, I notice that there are much more recordings of cantatas for Advent and Christmas than for Easter. The disc under review here is one of the very few that is entirely devoted to Easter repertoire. One reason may be that Easter follows a period of forty days, known as Lent or Passiontide, which has its own repertoire, including Passions (of which Telemann himself wrote a large number). It is fair to say that music specifically written for Easter, is not frequently performed, and that goes even for Johann Sebastian Bach's Easter Oratorio.

There is every reason to be happy with this recording of Easter cantatas. The first reason is the nature of the repertoire, which shows quite some variety. Four of the pieces selected for this recording are taken from two different annual cantata cycles, and the fifth cantata is a special case.

The disc opens with Ich war tot, und siehe, ich bin lebendig, a cantata for the first day of Easter. It is taken from the Jahrgang ohne Recitativ (annual cycle without recitative), which dates from 1724/25. At that time, Telemann was working as Musikdirektor in Hamburg, where he was responsible for the liturgical music in the five main churches. However, he still was in contact with the places where had worked before: Eisenach and Frankfurt am Main. The cantatas of this cycle were also performed there.

Telemann's aim was to give each annual cycle of cantatas a character of its own. In this particular case the name under which it is known already reveals what is special about it: all cantatas omit recitatives, which were a fixed part of any cantata at the time. The texts of this cycle were written by Johann Friedrich Helbig, secretary and Kapellmeister at the court of Eisenach. As he died before the cycle was completed, the cantatas for the period from Pentecost to the last Sunday of the ecclesiastical year were written by Benjamin Neukirch, court poet at Ansbach.

The instrumental scoring of Ich war tot is notable, as no wind instrument - often used in pieces of a jubilant nature - participates. The four voices are supported by two violins, viola and basso continuo. The cantata opens with a dictum - a quotation from the Bible - set in the form of an aria for bass. Next is a chorale - the well-known Easter hymn Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn - and then we get three further arias, for soprano, alto (another biblical quotation) and tenor respectively. The cantata ends with another chorale, the third stanza of the previous hymn.

Brannte nicht unser Herz in uns is a cantata for the second day of Easter. The scoring is the same: strings and basso continuo. It again opens with a dictum, this time in the form of a duet of alto and tenor. The text is taken from Luke 24, where the story of the men of Emmaus is told: "Did not our hearts burn in us when he spoke to us on the road, when he opened the Scriptures to us?" It is followed by an aria for soprano and a chorale, the fifth stanza from the hymn Von Gott will ich nicht lassen (Ludwig Helmbold, 1563). Next are two arias for alto and bass respectively. The latter turns into a chorus; the text is taken from from St Paul's letter to the Ephesians (ch 4). The piece ends with another chorale, the seventh stanza from Wass willst du dich betrüben (Johann Heermann, 1630).

Triumph! Ihr Frommen freuet euch is one of two cantatas from the 2. Lingenscher Jahrgang, called after Hermann Ulrich von Lingen, the author of the texts, who was also a court secretary in Eisenach. He had already written the texts for the annual cycle of 1722/23; the second, which was performed in Eisenach and Hamburg, was intended for the ecclesiastical year 1728/29. The latter open with a sinfonia, which is followed by an accompanied recitative. Instead of arias, they include duets in dacapo form, in which the two singers never sing together: one takes care of the A section, the B section is allocated to the other singer. In between are chorales and/or choruses. In Triumph! the accompanied recitative is for tenor, which is followed by a duet of soprano and bass. Next is a chorale, the fourth stanza of the hymn O Tod, wo ist dein Stachel (Georg Weissel, 1644). The second duet is for soprano and alto, and then two choruses set texts from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (ch 15). The cantata ends with the first stanza of the hymn by Weissel. The scoring of this cantata includes parts for three trumpets and timpani.

In the second cantata from this same cycle, Verlass doch einst, o Mensch, intended for the third day of Easter, Telemann confines himself once again to a scoring for strings and basso continuo. This can be explained from the tenor of this piece, which is about the sins of man and their expiation through Jesus's death and resurrection. The accompanied recitative for alto says it all: "Do hasten to leave, O man, the grave of accustomed sin; your Saviour calls to you with yearning: Do awake from your deep sleep". The first duet is for soprano and tenor, the second for alto and bass. They are separated by a chorale, the fifth stanza from the hymn Wo soll ich fliehen hin (Johann Heermann, 1630). The sixth stanza closes the cantata.

The fifth cantata is a somewhat odd piece, which makes Wolfgang Hirschmann, the author of the liner-notes, suggest it may be a "cuckoo's egg" - a piece that has been attributed to Telemann because of his fame as a composer in his time. The cantata is not part of a cycle, and the only copy has been preserved in the Brussels library. The scoring is unusual: tenor and bass solo, with an ensemble of two trumpets, two violins playing in unison and basso continuo. Er ist auferstanden, a cantata for the second day of Easter, opens with a duet of the two voices, which is followed by two pairs of recitative and aria for each of the voices, first tenor and then bass. The cantata ends with another duet, preceded by a tenor recitative. Notable is the absence of any chorale. However, in the closing duet the two trumpets play the melody of Nun danket alle Gott.

This disc is quite intriguing as we see here more evidence of Telemann's creativity in the writing of music for the church. The form of the cantatas included here is highly original, and in some cantatas the instrumental scoring is also surprising. That makes this disc a substantial contribution to the Telemann discography. It is to be hoped that more cantatas from these two cycles are going to be recorded in the near future.

The nature and quality of these cantatas are one reason to be happy with this release. The other reason is the level of the performances. All the participants are in superb form here. The four soloists do a great job, and the voices blend perfectly in the tutti setions. Considering the places where these cantatas have been performed, it seems right that Michael Alexander Willens decided to do without the participation of ripieno voices. The instrumental ensemble delivers excellent performances throughout.

Playing this disc is the perfect way to celebrate the joyful Easter time.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Peter Kooij
Margot Oitzinger
Georg Poplutz
Johanna Winkel
Kölner Akademie

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