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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Französischer Jahrgang 1714/15 - Complete Cantatas Vol. 2"

Julie Grutzkab, Sabine Goetza, soprano; Lieselotte Fink, contraltoa; Luca Segger, altob; Fabian Kellya, Hans Jörg Mammelb, tenor; Hans Christoph Begemanna, Gotthold Schwarzb, bass
Gutenberg Soloists; Neumeyer Consort
Dir: Felix Koch

rec: Nov 22 - 26, 2021a, Dec 13-14 & 22-23, 2021b, Kaiserslautern, Studio SWR
CPO - 555 437-2 (© 2022) (2.12'55")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Christ ist erstanden (TWV 1,136)a; Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebt (TWV 1,874)b; Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebt (TWV 1,876)b; Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (TWV 1,976)a; Und sie redeten miteinander (TWV 1,1438)a; Unschuld und ein gut Gewissen (TWV 1,1440)a; Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten (TWV 1,1593)a; Wertes Zion, sei getrost (TWV 1,1606)b; Wir liegen, großer Gott, vor dir (TWV 1,1668)b

Only recently I reviewed the first volume of a project concerning the recording of a complete annual cycle of sacred cantatas by Georg Philipp Telemann, known as the 'French cantata cycle', because of Telemann's use of elements of the French style. If you want to know more about it, please read what I wrote in that review. The second volume again includes cantatas for different stages of the ecclesiastical year. The first half - the first disc in the physical production - comprises cantatas for Lent and Easter, whereas the second half consists of four cantatas for three Sundays after Trinity. In this review I discuss the cantatas in the order of the ecclesiastical year.

Unschuld und ein gut Gewissen is written for Sunday Oculi, the third Sunday in Lent. It has the most common scoring: four voices, two oboes, strings and basso continuo. The text links up with the Gospel of the day - Luke 11, vs 14-28, in which Jesus is accused of casting out devils through Beelzebub (Satan) - in that the devil plays a key role. The first recitative opens with the phrase: "We live in the world that the Devil cast in his likeness". The bass aria, written in the stile concitato, says: "Rail, Devil, as you will! I shall maintain silence. If the good Lord is my friend, no foe can trouble me." The cantata opens with an aria for soprano, which includes a very long note - spanning four bars - on the word "sanftes" (soft [restful cushion]). Only then follows a chorus on verses from Psalm 37 (Commit your way to the Lord); the B part is fugal. At the end of the alto recitative, the word "schweigt" (keeps silent) is followed by a pause. The cantata ends with a chorale, which seems not to have been very common. I could only find it in a hymn-book, called Das vermehrte Schleitzische Gesang-Buch, but I don't known any details about this book.

The fourth Sunday in Lent is known as Sunday Laetare. For this day Telemann composed Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten. That is the first line of the hymn which opens the work: "He who allows God alone to guide his ways (...) will be miraculously preserved". The second hymn says: "When he opens his gentle hand, prosperity grows throughout the land". The central thought is that God is a father, who delivers everything his children need. This is inspired by the Gospel of the day: John 6, vs 1-15, in which Jesus feeds five thousand people. The conclusion is expressed in the closing chorus - with solos for soprano, alto and tenor - on a verse from Psalm 34: "Savour and see how friendly the Lord is. Blessed he who trusts in him". There are three hymns, each followed by an aria. In the bass aria the tempo is speeding up at the last line: "So depart from me, vile cares!"

The three next cantatas are for the three days of Easter. According to Ursula Kramer, the author of the liner-notes, they constitute a kind of cycle. Christ ist erstanden is for the first day of Easter. Obviously, the resurrection of Jesus is the subject of this cantata, according to the narrative in the Gospel after St Mark (ch 16, vs 1-8). As in this annual cycle Telemann makes extensive use of the French style, it does not come as a surprise that the cantata opens with a French overture. That was the beginning of a suite, and that makes sense as Jesus' resurrection is the beginning of a new era. Moreover, in France the overture was also the moment the king entered, and that is exactly what happened wenn Jesus rose from the tomb (Bach uses a French overture in his Advent cantata BWV 61, undoubtedly with the same intention). It is notable that Telemann incorporates here the medieval Easter hymn Christ ist erstanden; the first half is sung unchanged in the A section by the tenors. The B section is for the tutti; the text is taken from Psalm 118 (vs 15-16): "Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: 'The Lord's right hand has done mighty things! The Lord's right hand is lifted high; the Lord's right hand has done mighty things!'" Then the tutti sing the second half of the Easter hymn in homophony. The central issue in the cantata is the comfort the resurrection brings, as is expressed in the bass recitative: "Ye spirits of sorrow, depart! God, the righteous judge, has now cancelled all my debts". As a result the faithful can die peacefully: "Death is now my gain. I go where Jesus is", as the tenor recitative says, which includes a long melisma on "fahr" (go). In the bass aria (To die joyously in faith) the parts of oboes, violins and violas are split - the latter another element of the French style. The cantata ends with the two last stanzas from the funeral hymn Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist (Nikolaus Herman, 1562).

Und sie redeten miteinander is for the second day of Easter; the orchestra consists of two oboes and strings, again with split violas. The Gospel of the day was from Luke 24, which is about the journey of two disciples to Emmaus. The dialogue between them is expressed in several ways. The cantata opens with a sinfonia, in which the first and second violins alternate. This is not audible; this is what is called Augenmusik - one immediately sees it in the score. It is followed attacca by a recitative for alto, which describes that the two disciples talked to each other. The tenor aria then picks up the element in the story that Jesus joins the disciples, who don't recognize him: "Conceal yourself as you will, you remain what you are: my Jesus, my sun and shield (...)". Then follows an ingenious and unusual duet of two sopranos, with the indication "Echo" (I don't know whether this was added by the editor of the modern score): the second soprano repeats the words of the first. The text is taken from the Song of Solomon (ch 2, vs 9): "Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice." The soprano recitative, which opens and closes in the manner of an arioso, expresses the joy of Jesus' presence. The cantata closes with another unusual form: an aria for four voices, in which some of them have solo passages.

In the cantata for the third day of Easter, Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, Erdmann Neumeister returns to the subject of a peaceful death as a result of Jesus' resurrection, which was also a substantial element in the cantata for the first day of Easter. It is notable that the key is B minor, which Johann Mattheson associated with melancholy; later Christian Schubart characterised it as the key of patience, of calm awaiting one's fate. That fits the tenor of this cantata, which is expressed in the tenor arioso: "He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near." (Ephesians 2, vs 17) The Gospel of the day is from Luke 24, where is told that Jesus appears to his disciples and wishes them peace. Bach composed his cantata Der Friede sei mit dir for this day. Telemann's cantata is dominated by tutti sections: it includes four chorales, one of which opens the cantata, and a chorus, and closes with an aria for bass with chorus. The other solos are an arioso for tenor and two recitatives, for soprano and bass respectively. The opening chorale connects Jesus' resurrection and death, comparable with another hymn, Christ lag in Todesbanden. The second and third chorales are the fourth and fifth stanzas of Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn. The fourth is the last stanza of the hymn Ach was soll ich Sünder machen. The chorus is set to two verses from Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians: "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him." In the last phrase Telemann has created a strong contrast between "[being] awake" (wachen) and "[being] asleep" (schlafen).

The second half of this volume comprises four cantatas for the 22nd to 24th Sundays after Trinity.

Wir liegen, großer Gott, vor dir is a cantata for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity. The Gospel of the day is the parable of the unmerciful steward (Matthew 18), which Jesus tells in reply to Peter's question how often he has to forgive his brother. The scoring is notable for the inclusion of two bassoon parts, alongside two oboes, strings (with split violas) and basso continuo. The cantata opens with a chorus which expresses the awareness of sinfulness: "We lie before you, almighty God, with fear and trepidation". The fear is illustrated by the tremolo in the strings. The recitative for tenor compares the faithful with the unmerciful steward, who owns his employer a large sum of money: "We are many thousands of thousands in your debt". After a chorale the bass sings an aria, with two obbligato bassoon parts, on a text from the prophet Hosea: "What shall I make of you, Ephraim?" It is in two contrasting parts, in accordance with the contrasts in the text; the second part has the addition affettuoso. After a soprano recitative, a duet of alto and tenor with choir sums up the message of this cantata: "As God loves and forgives, so should we forgive".

The cantatas of this cycle may have been first performed in 1714 in Eisenach, and this explains the subject matter of Wertes Zion, sei getrost. It is intended for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, which in 1714 was the Sunday after Reformation day. In several parts of Germany, including Frankfurt, it was in use to celebrate the feast of the Reformation not on that day, but the Sunday following it. Hence the inclusion of the first stanza of Ein feste Burg; it is the second section. The celebration of the Reformation also explains the scoring for four voices and an orchestra of three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings (with split violas) and basso continuo. The cantata opens with a duet for soprano and bass with the entire orchestra: "Worthy Zion, be comforted. Fear no foes." The orchestra plays a long introduction; the soloists have extended coloratura on "getrost" (comforted). After the chorale, tenor and soprano sing a long recitative, in which the Reformation is connected to the Gospel of the day: Matthew 22, vs 15–22. It tells how the Pharisees ask Jesus a trick question: is it right to pay tribute to Caesar? "As it happens to Jesus, so it now happens to his church. Just as Satan's brood crept together and clung to each other there when they sought to entrap him, so his serpents still do the same". The tenor recitative is secco, the soprano part accompanied by strings. Then follows a belligerent chorus, with trumpets and timpani: "Rage, ye nations - and yet you will flee". Repetition of words is an essential element here. It ends with the proclamation: "For here is Emanuel". Alto and tenor sing a duet: "Zion shall not perish", to an accompaniment of two trumpets and two oboes. The cantata closes with an extended chorus with solos on a threefold "Halleluja!"

For the 24th Sunday after Trinity Telemann composed Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebt. The title - the first line of the tenor aria which opens the cantata - refers to a well-known biblical text, which also appears in George Frideric Handel's Messiah, and is taken from the Old Testament book of Job (ch 19). The text of the aria is not a dictum, though, but from the pen of Erdmann Neumeister: "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that I also shall live. From dust and ashes he will wake you, my flesh, and thus surround me with this my skin". The dotted rhythms lend this aria a lively and uplifting character. It sets the tone of the entire cantata, which is about the resurrection of the dead, inspired by the Gospel of the day, Matthew 9, vs 18-26, which tells about the raising from the death of Jairus's daughter. In the recitative the bass addresses the Sadducees, who repudiated the resurrection, in opposition to Jesus' teachings. Next follows a dictum sung by the choir; the text is taken from the Gospel after St John (ch 5): "[For] a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned." Telemann comes up with a differentiated setting, in which the various elements are illustrated. The first section is dominated by repeated notes in all the voices. The words about the good are set to rising figures; then follows a short section, marked adagio, about those who have done evil ("die aber Übels getan haben"). The word "Gericht" (judgement) is set to descending figures, whereas rising figures are used for "Auferstehung" (resurrection). After a recitative, which proclaims that the faithful can die confidently, the last aria for soprano claims that faith would be vain and futile if we did not know about the resurrection. The cantata closes with the sixth stanza of the hymn Ach was soll ich Sünder machen.

In 1722 Telemann added a second version of this cantata to his French cycle. It is the only cantata of this cycle which has been preserved in autograph. The text is largely the same; only in the second aria some words have been changed. The scoring is a little different as well: whereas in the first version the orchestra consists of strings and basso continuo, in the second version Telemann adds two oboes. The opening aria is again for tenor, but now the dotted rhythms have disappeared; both oboes and violins play in unison. The first secco recitative is again for bass, the second for alto (instead of bass) and the second aria for bass (instead of soprano). The chorus has no instrumental introduction this time; otherwise there are quite some similarities. Here the words "des Gerichts" (of judgement) are repeated in staccato form in all the voices; Telemann also makes use of chromaticism in this chorus. The ritornello at the end of the second aria is considerably longer than in the previous version. Given the differences, it was well justified to include both versions here.

Like in the first volume, Felix Koch has brought together a good team of soloists, who also participate in the tutti sections. The only singer I have some mixed feelings about is Hans Christoph Begemann. He is at his very best in the belligerent aria 'Lästre Teufel, wie du willt' (Unschuld und ein gut Gewissen), which is just brilliantly performed. However, in the more lyrical arias, in a slower tempo, and the recitatives, his vibrato is disappointing. Lieselotte Fink is a new name in this project and a good addition, and so is her male colleague Luca Segger. It is also nice to see Hans Jörg Mammel making his appearance in this project; he is excellent, as always. Gotthold Schwarz is also a seasoned interpreter of German baroque repertoire, and that shows in his treatment of the texts in arias and recitatives. I was impressed by the first volume, which testified to Telemann's creative spirit. So does this second volume, which includes again many interesting features. This is a project that may well become one of the most important in the years to come.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Hans Christoph Begemann
Lieselotte Fink
Sabine Goetz
Julie Grutzka
Fabian Kelly
Hans Jörg Mammel
Luca Segger
Neumeyer Consort

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