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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Cantatas for the Hanoverian Kings of England"

Hanna Zumsande, sopranoa; Dominik Wörner, bass
barockwerk hamburg
Dir: Ira Hochman

rec: Oct 12 - 14, 2020, Hamburg-Othmarschen, Christuskirche
CPO - 555 426-2 (© 2021) (70'16")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Bleibe, lieber König, leben (TWV 13,21); Du bleibest dennoch unser Gott (TWV 13,9b)a; Gib, daß ich mich nicht erhebe (TWV 1,621)a; Großmächtigster Monarch der Briten (TWV 12,11)a; Lieber König, du bist tot (TWV 4,15)

Anabel Röser, recorder, oboe; Eva-Maria Horn, recorder, bassoon; Idan Levi, Polina Gorshkova, transverse flute; Christiane Ascheberg, oboe; Henry Moderlak, Francesco Bellotto, trumpet; Micaela Storch-Sieben, Christiane Hampe, Katrin Ebert, Galina Roreck, Maja Hunziker, Rupert Dintinger, Christine Philippsen, violin; Stefan Sieben, Rafael Roth, viola; Christoph Harer, cello; Bernd von Ostrowski, violone; Johannes Gontarski, lute; Olga Chumikova, harpsichord, organ

Georg Philipp Telemann was for a number of decades the main composer in Germany, and as Musikdirektor in Hamburg (1721-1767) he played a key role in music life. He was not only responsible for the liturgical music for the five main churches of the city, but he also received commissions to compose music for special occasions in the church and in society at large. This explains why his oeuvre includes a considerable number of occasional works, for instance the Kapitänsmusiken and pieces for funerals, weddings and political ceremonies. However, what could have made him compose music for English kings, even though they had their roots in Germany, and in particular in Hanover?

The disc under review includes five works, three of which were written for "the Hanoverian Kings of England", as the title says. They are part of a collection of five works, written during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) between England and France, struggling for world supremacy (more about this war at Wikipedia). Such compositions were usually the result of commissions, but in this case it is not known who asked Telemann to write these works. Jürgen Neubacher, in his liner-notes, comes up with several possibilities. They could have been commissioned by English businessmen in Hamburg, but there is no documentary evidence pointing in this direction. Therefore he thinks that it is more likely that the request came not from Hamburg but rather from the Electorate of Hanover. The Kings of England were, in personal union, also Prince-Electors of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Kurhannover). "Possibilities include the electorate's garrison towns of Stade and Harburg, the cultural centres of Lüneburg, Brunswick and the university town of Göttingen, or the seat of government itself, Hanover. Among the potential patrons who may have commissioned the works are members of the government, aristocracy and military (or their families) who were involved in the hostilities in one way or another, or who felt connected with the events for reasons of patriotism. Equally conceivable are the educators and scholars of the electorate who wished to present their credentials as loyal subjects of the monarch".

The three items are ranked among three different categories in the Telemann catalogue. Section 4 comprises funeral cantatas, section 12 music for birthdays and section 13 music for political ceremonies. One of the latter category is Bleibe, lieber König, leben (Stay, dear king, alive), which opens this disc. It may date from springtime 1760, when attemps for a peace treaty were made (which failed). The B section of the first aria includes the lines: "Grant peace on earth! Rush not away before your time!" This cantata comprises two arias, embracing a recitative. The scoring is for bass and an ensemble of two trumpets, timpani, strings and basso continuo. The bass symbolizes the power of the king, and the trumpets were generally considered royal instruments. The text is typical for such pieces; the third aria says in its A section: "Become that which George once was: thus his grandchildren will cry in future to their grandchildren".

This cantata's subject was King George II (168-1760). That same year he died, on 25 October, and Telemann composed the funeral cantata Lieber König, du bist tot (Dear king, you are deceased), dated at 19 November. The scoring is the same as that of the previous cantata, but the atmosphere is obviously very different, which is not only expressed in the music, but also in the fact that the trumpets and timpani are playing with mutes. The two arias are separated by an accompagnato. In the first aria, the A section includes a contrast between the two sentences: "Dear king, you are deceased / and taken into heaven". The latter phrase is illustrated by a rising figure. The second aria seems to refer to King George's successor: "Mingled among our funeral dirges is a sound of joy. A sun has set, but we see, in all its radiance, the light of a new sun that promises us a Golden Age." Telemann illustrates the word "Freudenton" (sound of joy) with elaborate coloratura.

That successor, George III (1738-1820), George II's grandson, is the addressee of the third 'Hanoverian' cantata, Großmächtigster Monarch der Briten (Most mighty monarch of the Britons), written for his birthday on 4 June 1761. The scoring is again for bass, two trumpets, timpani, strings and basso continuo, but now a soprano and two transverse flutes are added. The cantata opens with an aria for bass, who then sings a recitative, which expresses once again the hope for peace: "To grant peace unto the world God needs the life of the king." Next is an aria for soprano, which clearly shows which side the commission came from: "Enemies! Cease your fighting! Your lot is to submit, George's, to prevail". The proclaiming character of this text is eloquently expressed in the music. The soprano then sings a recitative in which the enemies are urged to "kiss in gratitude the sceptre of him who has captured the priceless delight of your salvation". The closing duet underlines this message: "Bow down, proud states, lower your heads, humble yourselves".

The remaining two pieces are of a different character. Du bleibest dennoch unser Gott is ranked among the music for political ceremonies. This cantata was written at the occasion of the commemoration of the Augsburg Confession of 1530. The Augsburg Confession, also known as Confessio Augustana, was the primary confession of faith of the Lutheran Church (more at Wikipedia). The commemoration was an important event, comparable with that of the commemoration of the Reformation. The fact that this cantata is one of a set of six (four of which have been lost) which were to be performed parallel at the same day in the five main churches, and for the performance of which Telemann attracted additional musicians, bears witness to that. The text is from the pen of the Hamburg poet Johann Georg Hamann. The scoring is rather modest: soprano, bass, strings and basso continuo. However, Ira Hochman decided to add trumpets which play colla parte with the violins. This issue is not discussed in the liner-notes. The cantata opens and closes with an aria a 2, and in the centre is an aria for soprano, embraced by two bass recitatives. The soprano aria says: "Arise! Wish Jerusalem happiness and praise the mighty name of the Supreme Being!" The word "preiset" (praise) is illustrated by virtuosic coloratura.

The last item - here the fourth piece in the programme - is a 'regular' church cantata. Gib, daß ich mich nicht erhebe is intended for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity and was performed on that Sunday in 1749. The gospel of that day is from Matthew 22, where the Pharisees ask Jesus whether it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor. The opening chorale sets the tone: "Grant that I may not pride myself for being wealthy, nor live in splendour and lust, for death takes everything away". The liner-notes include a humorous story about a scandal caused by the first aria: "I must flee. Begone, pack up! Duties, tithes and taxes reduce me to poverty. I take in five hundred and hand over fifty. Not just the authorities, the crowd of divines also seek reward from me for their service". Apparently a Hamburg merchant smelled a rat. The head of the Spiritual Ministry noted that the cantata included an aria "which has greatly offended many listeners, and subsequently a good number of townspeople, as I was assured last week with great indignation by a highly esteemed merchant, who said (...) that such tommyrot must not be sung in church". The arrow had clearly hit the mark. Telemann defended himself by saying that someone else had written the text and he had only set it to music. He did so brilliantly: the fast tempo and musical figures create such a sense of hurry that no listener will have missed the point. This cantata is for soprano, who sings two arias, separated by a recitative. The opening and closing chorales are for four voices; the parts for alto, tenor and bass are ad libitum, and here the two middle voices are performed instrumentally, whereas the bass part is sung.

This disc gives us the opportunity to become acquainted with a different side of Telemann's activities. This kind of cantatas are not often performed, and the texts of some of them, as indicated above, are not of the best quality. But, like Purcell in his Odes, Telemann is able to set them to excellent music. The five pieces here are musically rewarding, and brilliantly performed by two of the best singers of German baroque music. Both in their arias and in their recitatives, Hanna Zumsande and Dominik Wörner are in superb form. In the duets their voices blend perfectly. The ensemble is at its very best as well.

This disc deserves a strong recommendation. May many more follow.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Dominik Wörner
Hanna Zumsande
barockwerk hamburg

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