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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Lateinisches Magnificat - Latin Sacred Works"

Emanuela Galli, soprano; Elisa Bonazzi, mezzo-soprano; Gabriella Martellacci, contralto; Raffaele Giordani, tenor; Mauro Borgioni, baritone; Rocco Lia, bass; Elena Sartori, organa
Allabastrina Choir & Consort
Dir: Elena Sartori

rec: June 21 - 23, 2017, Casola Valsenio (I), Abbazia Valsenio
Christophorus - CHR 77414 (© 2017) (58'59")
Liner-notes: E/D/I; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Georg Philipp TELEMANN: Deus judicium tuum (WV 7,7); Laudate Jehovam omnes gentes (TWV 7,25); Magnificat anima mea (TWV 9,17); Johann Gottfried WALTHER (1684-1748): Concerto del Signor Telemann, appropriato all'organo in c minor (allegro)a; Concerto per la chiesa del Signor Telemann, appropriato all'organo in Ga

Elena Bassi, Sara Bino, Giovanna Casanova, Martina Zaccarin, soprano; Elisa Bonazzi, Elena Croci, Gabriella Martellacci, Rossana Verlato, contralto; Raffaele Feo, Sergio Martella, Nicolo' Pasello, Nicola Petruzzella, tenor; Decio Biavati, Marcus Kohler, Rocco Lia, Lorenzo Martinuzzi, Yiannis Vassilakis, bass
Lorenzo Cavasanti, Manuel Staropoli, transverse flute; Aviad Gershoni, Davide Bertozzi, oboe; Matteo Scavazza, Elena Bianchi, bassoon; Jonathan Pia, Michele Santi, Silvia Ferri, trumpet; Stefano Rossi, Winnie Finke, Isabella Bison, Beatrice Scaldini, Simone Pirri, Edelweiss Tinoco, violin; Simone Laghi, viola; Gregorio Buti, cello; Luca Bandini, violone; Alessandro Padoan, harpsichord; Alessandro Casali, organ; Paolo Nocentini, timpani

It is a popular thought that, as a result of Martin Luther's reform of the liturgy, Latin disappeared from worship. That was certainly not the case. Most of the music in services was still sung by a choir, and not by the congreation, and most of the choral repertoire comprised motets on Latin texts, often by composers who were Catholic. The various editions of such collections from the first decades of the 17th century, such as Florilegium Portense, attest to that. It also explains why the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach includes various settings of liturgical texts (in his case sections of the Mass) in Latin. The same goes for Georg Philipp Telemann. It is true, as Elena Sartori states in the liner-notes to the present disc, that he "wrote relatively few pieces in Latin, compared with his huge musical output." His output was huge indeed, and from that angle the number of sixteen masses - of the brevis type, consisting of Kyrie and Gloria - is not large. However, that number is considerably larger than what Bach brought to paper in this category. Therefore it does not deserve to be almost completely neglected. A few masses are available on disc, but the majority has probably never been performed in modern times. In addition to the masses Telemann's oeuvre includes a few further pieces on Latin texts. Three of these are included here, and of these the motet Deus judicium tuum is by far the best-known in this part of his oeuvre. The Magnificat is claimed to be performed here for the first time "in a complete version" - whatever that may mean. Laudate Dominum omnes gentes is a setting of the shortest Psalm, 117.

This piece opens the programme. It is the most 'modern' piece, so to speak, and Sartori sees it as a forerunner of the classical style. "[The] whole choir is treated as a single singer or sometimes the male voices and female voices interact like in a duet. This new way of writing is to be found in later composers who began to compose in a more orchestral way."

Deus judicium tuum is also a setting of a Psalm: 71 (72) in this case. Stylistically it is very different, and Telemann composed it during his sojourn in France in 1737/38. It links up with the tradition of the French grand motet, which had its origin at the court, but was later frequently performed at the Concert Spirituel, the series of public concerts which was founded in 1725. Here Telemann's motet was also performed, on 25 March 1738. Later it was performed again in the presence of the royal family. Telemann's adherence to tradition comes to the fore in the writing in five parts - divided into solo voices, choir and orchestra - and in the sequence of choruses and récits. Moreover, the opening movement has the form of a French overture, consisting of two sections: a maestoso in a dotted rhythm, and a fugal section with the indication un poco presto. The work includes quite some text illustration, for instance in the harmonic progressions on the closing line of the first section, on the words "et pauperes tuos in judicio" (and thy poor with judgement). In the next section Telemann emphasizes the word "humiliabit" (shall break in pieces [the oppressor]) through coloratura. The fourth section opens with the phrase "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass", which is illustrated by descending figures. There is a marked contrast between the two halves of the eighth section; this récit is for soprano, who is accompanied by strings and basso continuo, which are joined by two transverse flutes. Notable is Telemann's use of counterpoint in the tutti sections.

That also goes for the last work in the programme, a setting of the Song of Mary, the Magnificat. In comparison with this piece, Telemann's German Magnificat, Meine Seele erhebt den Herren, is far better known and also available in various recordings. It is hard to understand why this Latin setting has received so little attention, as it is a very fine work. The instrumental scoring is typical for German settings of this text: three trumpets, timpani, strings and basso continuo. The work opens with a sinfonia, which is followed by the first verse for the entire ensemble. 'Quia respexit' (For he has looked with favour on his humble servant) is fittingly set in an intimate manner, for alto, obbligato violin and bc. Obviously 'Quia fecit mihi magna' (The Almighty has done great things for me) is a tutti section. 'Et misericordia' is a wonderful setting for soprano, singing over a tapestry of slowly forward-moving strings. Then the trumpets and timpani enter, together with two basses, on the text "He has shown the strength of his arm" (Fecit potentiam); this section has the form of a battaglia. The next section, 'Dispersit superbos', follows attacca and continues in this vein; it is set for the entire ensemble. At the end the word "humiles" (the humble) is set to low notes in a slow tempo. 'Esurientes inplevit bonis', for tenor and strings, links up with this mood. At the end the music vanishes, illustrating the phrase "the rich he has sent away empty". It is followed by a section, in which the alto is in dialogue with an obbligato cello.

As Deus judicium tuum is pretty well known and available in several recordings, this disc would have been a more important addition to the discography, if Elena Sartori had decided to include one of Telemann's masses instead. Even so, the other two pieces are unknown, and therefore this disc is of considerable importance. Considering the different circumstances, under which these pieces have been written and performed, it is not easy to decide how to perform them. I had no access to a score of Deus in judicium tuum, and therefore I can't check Telemann's original instrumentation. Did he adhere to the structure of the French orchestra, with its split middle voices? If so, he probably adapted the instrumental scoring for a performance in Germany. It is notable that the latter performance was not part of the liturgy, but rather of a public concert. This justifies the use of a choir of seventeen voices in this recording, as Telemann, who for liturgical music could count on just eight singers, mostly used larger forces at such occasions. In France grands motets were always performed with solo voices and choir. For the other two pieces a line-up as is used here is probably more debatable. Another issue is the pronunciation. It is mostly Italian here, although I noted some inconsistencies, in that some of the soloists seem to pronounce the text in the German manner. In the case of Deus judicium tuum an Italian pronunciation is wrong anyway; in France Latin was pronounced quite differently.

I would not describe these performances as ideal; there are just a little too many weaknesses, especially in the performances of the soloists. However, they are very respectable, and I certainly have enjoyed this disc. For the motet I would prefer other performances, but especially the Magnificat is a major addition to the catalogue and receives a generally fine performance. This work really deserves to be better known. And let's hope the rest of Telemann's Latin sacred music will be given some attention in the near future as well.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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