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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Der aus der Löwengrube errettete Daniel (TWV deest)

Annegret Blessing-Leyhausen (Die Freude), Annegret Kleindopf (Seele), soprano; Laurie Reviol (Arbaces), mezzosoprano; Kai Wessel (Daniel), alto; Julian Prégardien (Das Vertrauen, Seele), Jörn Lindemann, tenor; Ekkehard Abele (Darius), Stephan Schreckenberger (Der Mut), bass
La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider

rec: March 16 - 17, 2008, Magdeburg, Konzerthaus Georg Philipp Telemann
CPO - 777 397-2 (© 2009) (69'42")

Georg Philipp Telemann is not immediately associated with large-scale vocal works. His operas have so far hardly been explored as far as his sacred music is concerned it is mainly his Passions which are performed. Therefore this oratorio is a rarity which is recorded for the first time. It was known for long, but nevertheless not included in the catalogue of Telemann's works as in several copies it is attributed to Handel. Considering the work's character that seems rather surprising and very hard to believe.

But is has been possible to establish not only Telemann as the composer but even the year it has been composed and performed. It is very likely it was part of an annual cycle of music for the liturgy of 1730/31, referred to as Zellescher Jahrgang or oratorio cycle. Telemann and the poet Albrecht Jacob Zell created a whole cycle of oratorios in which biblical characters play roles like in an opera. This was the time Telemann was also active as composer of operas for the opera at the Gänsemarkt.

In his programme notes the German musicologist Steffen Voss states that this oratorio was written for Michaelmas on 29 September of 1731 in the St Petrikirche in Hamburg. This feast was quite important in Lutheran Germany and one of the main feasts Luther had taken over from the Roman-Catholic liturgy. As St Michael is the archangel leading the heavenly hosts in the war against the forces of darkness led by Lucifer, and it is also the angels who saved Daniel from the lion's den the choice of the story of Daniel is a logical one. Also logical is the scoring of the oratorio which includes three trumpets and timpani.

The oratorio is split into two parts. After an 'Intrada' Daniel sings that he will remain faithful to God, despite the "godless, ignominious command" that nobody is allowed to petition from anyone than the king - an attempt to prevent him from praying to God. In a fiery aria he sings: "Roaring executioners, knock me to the ground and ragingly rip off my throat. (...) [No] matter, my last breath shall aim at God's praise". The allegorical character Freude (Joy) concludes that "even here on earth one can be like angels". He sings an aria the B-part of which is interrupted by a choir of angels singing "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; all the lands are full of his glory".

Then Daniel is accused by Arbaces, supported by a 'Chorus of the Accusors' that Daniel has been found praying: "[Up], up, to the king, he shall and must go to the den". The king tries to save Daniel, but to no avail. He sings a rage aria: "Vice is a wild flood ragingly pouring over the bank to sweep away the temple of virtue". In his aria Arbaces urges Darius: "Rage, avenge, punish, flash where evil is revealed". Darius then sings another rage aria in which he acknowledges that it is he who "by stupidity" poked up the fire of hate.

In the second part Daniel, in a lyrical aria, shows his readiness to die "true to God and to you". Darius, in the only aria in this work which has no dacapo, laments the fate of Daniel. But he assures that he will go to the lion's den first thing in the morning to see whether God has saved Daniel. A 'Chorus of the Trustful Souls' state that "[The] angels are ministering spirits, sent forth to serve on behalf of those who shall inherit salvation".

The next morning Daniel tells the king: "[My] God has sent forth the angel, by his protection to stand by me; he kept the lions' maws shut, that no harm might be done to me". Another allegorical character, Mut (Courage), urges "The shining heroes, the fiery hosts come to me in the most magnificent array". Asked for an explanation Daniel simply states: "I had trusted in my God!"

Darius then orders Arbaces and his followers to be thrown in the lion's den: "[The] lions now can have better fodder!". An appeal for mercy is without effect: in his recitative Darius ironically quotes Arbaces in his aria at the beginning. The oratorio ends with choruses praising God and a stanza from Luther's translation of the Te Deum: "Herr Gott, dich loben wir" (Lord God, we praise you).

This is a remarkable oratorio which indeed has much in common with an opera. The characters are well portrayed and the instruments are cleverly used to express the content of the arias. The trumpets and timpani are used to great effect in the fiery arias in the first part. There are several quotations from the Bible where Telemann makes use of old-fashioned counterpoint. The Chorus of the Trustful Souls has an almost Mendelssohnian lightness because of the use of strings only without basso continuo. And of course there are a number of moments where musical figures express the text.

On the whole I am quite happy about the performance. Kai Wessel gives an excellent account of the part of Daniel in which both his rage and his trust in God are convincingly expressed. Ekkehard Abele has enough power to express authority, but Darius' vulnerability and self-doubt also come out well. The other roles are rather small: Laurie Reviol tries to sound mean in her account of the role of Arbaces, but only partly succeeds - I think she could have done more without making a caricature of her character.

In the recitatives a bit more rhythmic freedom could have been used, and sometimes the orchestral playing is a bit flat. But these are only minor details as the interpretation as a whole is very good. I especially liked the reduction of the basso continuo to the cello only in the opening recitative of the second part: "Oh woe! Here he comes now in heavy chains". You can almost feel Daniel dragging his chains.

Anyone interested in German music shouldn't miss this production.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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