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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Komm, Geist des Herrn - Late Cantatas"

Dorothee Mields, soprano; Elisabeth Graf, contralto; Knut Schoch, tenor; Ekkehard Abele, bass
Kammerchor Michaelstein; Telemannisches Collegium Michaelstein
Dir: Ludger Rémy

rec: August 28 - Sept 4, 2004, Ditfurt, Kirche St. Bonifatius
CPO - 777 064-2 (© 2006) (52'55")

Er kam, lobsinget ihm, cantata for Ascension Day (TWV 1,462); Kaum wag ich es, cantata for the 19th Sunday after Trinity (TWV 1,992); Komm, Geist des Herren, cantata for Pentecost (TWV 1,999)

In the 1750s and 60s Telemann composed a number of works on texts by some of the most prominent poets of his time. One of them was Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, and therefore the programme notes in the booklet of this recording are entitled "Telemann's Sacred Music from the Klopstock Era". But the three cantatas on this disc are not based on texts by Klopstock or any poet who is still a household name in our time. The only contribution by Klopstock is the text of the chorale used in the first cantata, Komm, Geist des Herrn.

Often Telemann's sacred compositions on texts by poets connected to the German Enlightenment were written for performances in concert halls rather than the church. Among them are the oratorios Der Tod Jesu and Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu, both on texts by another famous poet, Karl Wilhelm Ramler. The cantatas on this disc, though, are written for liturgical performances, as the references to the Sundays and feasts of the ecclesiastical year show. In the case of the first cantata this caused some controversy. It wasn't the text of the cantata itself which was the problem, but rather the fact that Telemann used a traditional hymn with a new text by Klopstock. Although Hamburg was a centre of the Enlightenment, many pastors were rather orthodox, and had problems with the use of a new text on the Lutheran hymn "Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott". And the textbooks suggest that this cantata was performed with different hymn texts in the five churches in Hamburg in 1759: sometimes the original text was used, and sometimes Klopstock's parody. It is this version which has been recorded here. Telemann must have been fond of it, as he performed it again in 1764.

The poet of the cantata text itself is not known. The scoring is for four voices and an orchestra of three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings and bc, appropriate for the feast of Pentecost. It begins with an aria for bass which asks for the coming of the Holy Spirit: "Come, Spirit of the Lord, come down to us here too". It is followed by a chorale and a (recitativo) accompagnato, which refers to the disciples looking up in despair to heaven, where Jesus has disappeared (Ascension). Rather unusual for the time is the fourth section, the dictum which quotes two verses from St Paul's letter to the Romans. The next sections, two recitatives, an aria, a duet and two stanzas of the chorale are about the consolation and support which the faithful receive from the Holy Spirit. It is in particular the orchestra which Telemann uses to illustrate single words and phrases in the text, for instance in the third section, the accompagnato already mentioned, on words like "ein mächtig Brausen" (a wild wind), "Säuseln"(murmuring) and the phrase "Es tobte wider sie ein Haufe wilder Feinde" (a mob of wild enemies raged against them). The arias are da capo, as in Telemann's oratorios from the same period.

That is not the case in the next two cantatas. Their concise nature is reflected in the way Telemann has set them to music. Both are written by poets who were very young at the time. Both were students at the Hamburg Gymnasium, an institution between the Johanneum and the university. Kaum wag ich es was written by Johann Joachim Eschenburg, who was 18 years of age in 1762 when Telemann composed this cantata. Eschenburg was to become a prominent figure in German literature: he developed into a specialist in English literature (he translated Shakespeare in German) and a supporter of the Handel renaissance. The text is divided into six sections, but the poet left it to the composer to decide in what form to set his text. It opens and closes with a chorale, but as the poet didn't indicate which melody to use, Telemann composed one of his own, very much in the style of the traditional hymns used in the liturgy. The four sections in between are set as arias, but not in the form of a da capo aria. The central element in the text is the desperation of the believer about his sins and his fear of a "thousandfold pain". In the last aria the bass, acting as vox Christi, consoles the sinner: "Don't despair, o sinner, you shall live; I have redeemed you". It is here that Telemann, whose music so far was pretty gloomy, turns to a lively rhythm and uses ascending figures to illustrate the joy of Jesus saving the sinner from eternal death.

The last cantata on this disc is written on a text by another pupil of the Gymnasium, Daniel Schiebeler, also 18 years old when Telemann set his text to music in 1759. He was to become a famous poet, who died at the age of just 30 in 1771. Telemann used another text by Schiebeler in 1761: Don Quichote auf der Hochzeit des Camacho. In 1769 Telemann's successor as music director in Hamburg, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, composed his oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wüste also on a text by Schiebeler. Er kam, lobsinget ihm is a cantata for Ascension Day, which is in fact a short description of the life of Jesus: birth, passion and death, resurrection and ascension. Then his work in heaven is described, where he rules with his Father and acts as an advocate for his followers. In the last section of Schiebeler's text a very vivid description is given of what is going to happen when Jesus returns: the stars lose their light, "the world falls into its original nothingness" and "the judge's revenge will horrify" God's and his followers' enemies. Telemann adds a chorale to close the cantata: "Du fährest, Jesu, himmelauf", on the melody of "Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit". In this cantata, also set for a large orchestra of three trumpets, timpani, 2 transverse flutes, oboe, strings and bc, Telemann again uses the instruments to underline textual elements. The "thunder on the Sinai" in the first section is depicted by the timpani, the resurrection in the third section by two transverse flutes. And in the chorus which describes the second coming of Christ Telemann pulls out all the stops to depict the horrifying scenes which go along with that. It is noteworthy that the solo sections are called 'solo' rather than aria. Most of them contain elements of an aria as well as a recitativo accompagnato.

In the past Ludger Rémy has recorded sacred works by Telemann with one voice per part, in line with the theory - by Joshua Rifkin in particular - that most liturgical music in Germany was performed that way. In this recording only the second cantata is performed with solo voices, which also sing the ripieno passages. But in the other two cantatas a full choir is used. The booklet doesn't give any reasons for that, but it is perhaps the fact that Telemann has scored them for a full orchestra, including trumpets and timpani, which has led to this decision. I am not convinced that it is really necessary, but I don't consider it problematic either, although one has to ask whether Telemann would have used a full choir to perform just three simple chorale settings in Komm, Geist des Herrn. But the Kammerchor Michaelstein is an excellent choir, which is well suitable to realise the effects Telemann was aiming at. I had liked a stronger articulation in the chorales, though.

The soloists also do a fine job. They know how to deal with the text, and the balance with the orchestra is satisfying. In the only duet on this disc, in Komm, Geist des Herren, contralto and tenor blend very well. So do all four singers in both chorale settings in Kaum wag ich es. The playing of the orchestra is vivid and colourful.

This disc is a very interesting contribution to our knowledge of the art of Telemann. It shows that the composer in his seventies was as inventive and creative as ever and looking forward rather than backward.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

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