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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Six Cantatas 1731"

Maria Jonas, sopranoa; Klaus Mertens, bassb
Les Amis de Philippe
Dir: Ludger Rémy

rec: Feb 6 - 8, 2007, Bremen, Radio Bremen (Studio)
CPO - 777 297-2 (© 2009) (77'57")

Cantata I: Dich wird stets mein Herz erlesen (TWV 20,17)b; Cantata II: Mein Vergnügen wird sich fügen (TWV 20,18)a; Cantata III: Mein Schicksal zeigt mir nur von Ferne (TWV 20,19)a; Cantata IV: Dein Auge tränt (TWV 20,20)b; Cantata V: Lieben will ich (TWV 20,21)a; Cantata VI: In einem Tal, umringt mit hohen Eichen (TWV 20,22)b

Dorothee Müller-Kunst, recorder, transverse flute; Abigail Graham, oboe; Elisabeth Mergner, bassoon; Thordes Hohbach, Ruth Ellner, Renate Gentz, Carla Linné, violin; Klaus-Dieter Voigt, Almut Schlicker, viola; Niklas Trüstedt, violone; Ludger Rémy, harpsichord; Beate Röllecke, organ

The early decades of the 18th century saw the emergence of the Enlightenment. Its ideas were expressed by various magazines which were aimed at the bourgeoisie. The first were published in England. Translations of these magazines appeared in Germany, in particular in Hamburg which developed into a centre of the German Enlightenment. But soon magazines began to appear which were written by Germans, and one of the people involved in their publication was the composer and music theorist Johann Mattheson.

The first of these magazines were published in the 1720s, and it seems at that time Telemann began to compose pieces which were the musical equivalents, as it were, of those magazines. They reflect the ideas of the Enlightenment, which Ralph-Jürgen Reipsch, in his liner notes, sums up like this: "The virtuous man was distinguished (...) by composure, equanimity, and imperturbability; he was upright and moderate; avoiding extremes, he was always to keep away from unwholesome passions and to the path of the 'golden mean'." It is easy to understand that the movements of Empfindsamkeit and Sturm und Drang later in the 18th century are often considered a reaction to this ideal of temperance.

In the 1730s Telemann published three collections with 'moral cantatas'. Although only the second and third volumes from 1735 and 1736 respectively were explicitly called 'moral cantatas', the first six, the Sechs Cantaten which appeared in 1731, also belong to this category. They were referred to as 'galant' cantatas, and that is mainly because of the subject of love which all cantatas are about. But their tenor is clearly of a moral nature. In the beginning of the cantata a situation is depicted, usually connected to the protagonist of the cantata. Next it is described how that situation is solved, usually through reason, and the concluding aria expresses the moral lesson.

The texts are written by several then well-known poets some of whom also were the authors of other works by Telemann, like Kapitänsmusiken, operas and intermezzi. Parts of these cantatas are also taken from previous works. All cantatas are for one singer, even though there is sometimes more than one protagonist. This was also common practice elsewhere as in the French chamber cantatas of the early 18th century. The cantatas are not only modern in regard to their texts, but also in the fact that their first and last arias express opposing Affekts.

The instrumental scoring is for strings and basso continuo, with several obbligato parts for transverse flute, recorder, oboe and violin. As so often in his oeuvre Telemann suggests various alternatives for the instrumental scoring. And although in this recording the solos are performed by soprano and bass respectively, Telemann only indicates high or low voice. This was a way to increase sales, as everyone could just use the instruments and voices available. Apparently these cantatas were indeed widely sold. The liner notes give several quotations of contemporaries who expressed their admiration for these cantatas.

It is interesting to have a look at the last cantata as it gives a very clear impression of the spirit of the Enlightenment. The cantata opens with a recitative in which we meet Tirsis, sitting on a rock in the midst of a valley, his left arm, resting on his knee, supporting his head. He sighs and then, in his first aria, sings: "I hesitate between yes and no, which should I choose?" The dilemma is, of course, two lovers. The recitative explains: he loves Silvia whom he believes he can be happy with, but she doesn't love him. Phillis, on the other hand, loves him; with her he could gain esteem. The problem is: he doesn't love her. "I constantly quarrel with love and honour, full of doubt about the one to whom I should turn." Then he hears a nightingale, and in his second aria he urges him to sing: "Feathered siren, ripple, warble your tones to promote my rest". In his next recitative Tirsis sees the nightingale flee to another place and he draws this lesson from it: "this creature that can turn its flight wherever it wishes shall teach me by it: that nothing is so precious as freedom. Therefore: honour and love, away! I'll now be my own man again." In the closing aria we find the moral of the story: "Living in freedom is the highest good. If passion plays the master, our cheerful spirits are oppressed. Yes, yes, I'm blessed! For a free spirit crowns me."

This is an example of how these cantatas are structured. We find here the ideal of the 'golden mean', the avoidance of strong passions, and composure: freedom (of strong passions) is the highest good. Also interesting is the role of the nightingale. In many cantatas and operas birds are used as symbol for the state of mind of a protagonist. But here the bird is a model from which man can learn. And this refers to one of the ideals of the Enlightenment: man should learn from nature in order to avoid errors in society.

Needless to say, Telemann effectively uses musical means to emphasize the content. In the first aria the hesitation of Tirsis between yes and no is expressed by the music circling around a centre. The nightingale inevitably is depicted by a recorder. And in the recitative which precedes the closing aria the last lines are set in form of an extended arioso: "Therefore: honour and love, away! I'll now be my own man again." One aspect of these cantatas should be pointed out: there is often a close connection between recitative and aria. A number or recitatives end with a colon, and recitatives are used to explain the situation which was displayed in the preceding aria. This creates a great sense of unity sometimes lacking in baroque cantatas.

Ludger Rémy has again managed to dig up unknown pieces from Telemann's huge oeuvre. Apart from giving a very good impression of the influence of the Enlightenment on music, they show Telemann's versatility and his sense of theatre. He was a prominent composer of operas, after all. In this interpretation the dramatic character of the cantatas is emphasized, in particular in the way the recitatives are performed. There is a danger of exaggerating the drama in these cantatas, and I feel Maria Jonas does not always avoid that. In comparison Klaus Mertens is a little more moderate. But all in all both singers do an excellent job here, and fully reveal the character of these fine works. The players of Les Amis de Philippe give equally spirited and engaging performances of the instrumental parts. The obbligatos are also very well executed.

In short, this is an interesting and musically rewarding disc which should appeal to all lovers of baroque music.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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