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Georg Philipp Telemann: "Göttlichs Kind - Music for Advent & Christmas"

Susanne Rydén, sopranoa; Britta Schwarz, contraltob; Andreas Karasiak, tenorc; Sebastian Noack, bassd
solistenensemble stimmkunste; Ensemble 94
Dir: Kay Johannsen
rec: March 2 - 4, 2005, Stuttgart, Studios Südwestrundfunk
Carus - 83.180 (64'33")

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, cantata for the 1st Christmas Day (TWV 1,58)d,e; Göttlichs Kind, laß mit Entzücken, cantata for the 1st Christmas Day (TWV 1,1020a)c; In deinem Wort und Sakrament, cantata for the 1st Sunday of Advent (TWV 1,931)a,b,d,e; Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude, cantata for the 4th Sunday of Advent (TWV 1,1040)a; Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn (German Magnificat) (TWV 9,18)a,b,c,d,e

It is only fairly recently that the sacred vocal music by Telemann has started to be explored. For a long time only his instrumental music was given attention to, and the fact that Telemann was responsible for the composition and performance of church music in Hamburg for the largest part of his life was easily overlooked. The more I hear his vocal music the more I am impressed by its quality. There is no doubt that it is different from the church music of Bach, for example. Telemann worked in different circumstances, and he also was more in line with the newest trends in music. This is partly the reason why his music was very popular in his time, and publications of his music were very much in demand.

This disc brings music written for the period of Advent and Christmas. Four cantatas in different scorings are performed, and a setting of the Magnificat, in which Telemann uses the German translation by Martin Luther.

The disc opens with a cantata for the first Sunday of Advent, In deinem Wort und Sakrament. Its title refers to the Word and the Sacrament - the Holy Supper - as means through which Jesus comes to his people: "Through Thy Word and Sacrament you want to come close to him who acknowledges you". It describes the effect of Jesus's coming in the flesh: "I am a chosen Christian for whom there is no condemnation in life and death". The cantata begins with a chorus in which two chorale melodies are used: 'Nun komm der Heiden Heiland', and 'Kommt her zu mir, spricht Gottes Sohn'. Then follows an aria for soprano - beautifully sung here by Susanne Rydén - in two sections, which suggests a da capo structure, but the second section is followed by a stanza from the hymn 'Nun komm der Heiden Heiland'. The two next arias are for alto and bass respectively. The bass aria is written in the form of a French overture, which refers to the entrance of a king (also used this way by Bach, for instance). With the closing chorale Telemann returns to the hymn 'Kommt her zu mir'.

The next cantata is Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude, for soprano, recorder and basso continuo, which comes from the Harmonischer Gottesdienst, a collection of cantatas for solo voice, one instrument and basso continuo, which was published in 1725/26. Because of this modest scoring these cantatas could be performed in churches with limited possibilities as well as at home. The opening phrase, "Sheer bliss, sheer joy reigns in my stirred breast" reflects the uplifting character of Advent. But the next recitative - sung with the right amount of rhythmic freedom - casts a shadow on the joy as it refers to some people's refusal to follow Jesus's teachings and love for earthly things. In the last aria the contrast between the world which laughs about the Christian faith and those who find their joy in God is eloquently expressed in the music. The laughing of the world is vividly depicted by a repeat of the same note in the parts of soprano and recorder. I like the ornamentation Susanne Rydén applies in this cantata, but in the first aria she tends to exaggerate a little.

There is also plenty of text illustration in Telemann's setting of the Magnificat, here on the German text Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn. There are ascending figures on "erhebt den Herrn" (exalts the Lord) and descending figures on "stößet die Gewaltigen vom Stuhl" (has pushed the mighty from their seat). The pushing is depicted by the staccatos on "stößet", the power of God (He has shewed might in his arm) by a unison passage of choir and orchestra and the scattering of the proud by the splitting up of the choral texture into a sequence of short motifs. The doxology is sung in the 9th mode, a reference to tradition. Like Bach, Telemann has divided the Magnificat into a number of sections which are sung by either the soloists or the choir.

The fourth item on this disc is again a solo cantata, Göttlichs Kind, laß mit Entzücken, for high voice - sung by the tenor, not by the soprano as the booklet indicates -, two instruments and basso continuo. It comes from the Fortsetzung des Harmonischen Gottesdienstes, the second collection with sacred 'chamber' cantatas, which was published in 1731/32. This cantata sings about the intense joy the sight of the new-born child induces: "Holy child, let me clasp you at my heart with rapture". In the last aria Telemann uses ascending and descending scales on the words "steige, falle" (rise, fall, surge, swell with holy joy). Andreas Karasiak sings this cantata well, but I don't find his voice very pleasing, and he could use a little less vibrato. The instrumental parts are originally written for trumpet and violin, but Telemann suggests the oboe as alternative for the trumpet, and that is how the cantata is performed here.

The trumpet does appear in the last cantata on this disc, Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, written for bass, chorus and orchestra. This cantata refers to the appearance of the angels to the shepherds, telling them that Jesus has been born. The cantata begins with the first stanza of the hymn 'Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr'. After a recitative the choir sings the words of the chorus of angels: "Praise to God in his high heaven". Then follows an aria, in which the trumpet is involved - here played muted - and which is about the joy the announcement of the angels brings in that the sinners are now becoming inheritants of heaven. In the next recitative the bass vividly portrays the effects on Satan and his followers: "the Prince of Peace has crushed the serpent's head to dust". After another aria, in which Jesus is hailed, the bass askes him in a recitative to leave his cradle and move into his heart. This motif is picked up in the closing chorale. Sebastian Noack gives an excellent performance here, with a very eloquent interpretation of the recitatives.

I am very pleased by the performance of the sacred works on this disc. As far as the soloists are concerned I am most happy with the contributions of Susanne Rydén and Sebastian Noack. Britta Schwarz, whose part is rather small, isn't bad, but uses too much vibrato for my taste, and the same is true about Andreas Karasiak. Historical arguments for or against performances of this kind of music with one voice per part aside, I don't think such a performance could be realised with the singers involved here, as I suspect their voices wouldn't blend very wel. The choir is rather small: 3 voices per part. I hadn't heard it before, and it does make a very good impression here. Disappointing is the interpretation of the chorales, though, as they are sung too much legato. The orchestra is playing with one instrument per part, which comes pretty close to the circumstances under which Telemann's cantatas have been performed in churches in Hamburg. There are some excellent contributions by members of the ensemble in the obbligato parts in some cantatas and arias.

The booklet contains informative liner notes in German and the lyrics of all cantatas. The English translations are disappointing: the liner notes are abridged, and the translation of the lyrics is often too neutral and bland, missing the emotional connotation of the original.

To sum up: this is a most welcome addition to the growing list of recordings of Telemann's sacred oeuvre, and a recommendable alternative to the usual repertoire performed during the Advent and Christmas period.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

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