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"Bach - Telemann - Hertel"

Musica Angelica

rec: July 4 - 6 , 2008, Frankenstein
NCA - 60209 ( 2010) (71'39")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; no lyrics
Cover & tracklist
Score (Telemann)

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Fantasia and fugue in a minor (BWV 561)c; Toccata in e minor (BWV 914)c; Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727-1789): Partita I in Cbc; Partita III in d minorbc; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Endlich wird die Stunde schlagen (TWV 1,440)abc [1]; Umschlinget uns, ihr sanften Friedensbande (TWV 1,1426)abc [1]

Sources: [1] Georg Philipp Telemann, Harmonischer Gottesdienst, 1725/26

Robin Johannsen, sopranoa; Gonzalo X. Ruiz, oboeb; Jeremy Joseph, organc

Three German composers of the 18th century - two strict contemporaries and one of the next generation - with pieces of a various scoring: it is not easy to see the connection between the seven compositions on this disc.

Let's start with Johann Sebastian Bach. Jeremy Joseph plays two pieces which you won't find often on discs with organ music by Bach. The Toccatas which are catalogued as BWV 910 - 916 are generally considered harpsichord works, and that is how they are usually played. It has been questioned, though, whether they were conceived for the harpsichord. If one is used to hear them on the harpsichord, one wonders how they could be played convincingly at the organ. I don't known about the other Toccatas, but the Toccata in e minor (BWV 914) works quite well. It is probably dependent on the type of organ; I could imagine that really large organs are less suited to these pieces, in particular because of the episodes with rapid passage work. These come off very well here. Unfortunately the booklet doesn't give any information about the organ, but it seems not that large, and the relatively dry acoustic helps as well. The disc ends with a piece which isn't that often played because there is considerable doubt about its authenticity. The sources say it is by Bach; one of them calls it a Preludio e Fuga per il Cembalo, which could indicate a performance on a pedal harpsichord. The pedal's role is limited to the fantasia and the closing episode of the fugue, and is restricted to playing pedal points. Jeremy Joseph gives a convincing performance partly thanks to a very clear articulation, which is also crucial in the performance of the Toccata.

From Bach to Telemann is a logical step. They knew each other personally, and Telemann was the godfather of Bach's second son Carl Philipp Emanuel. Stylistically there are clear differences between them, but these should not be exaggerated. Bach was open to the kind of music Telemann wrote as his performance of cantatas by Telemann in Leipzig proves. Did he know the cantatas which Telemann published in 1725/26 under the title Harmonischer Gottesdienst? It is quite possible, and if so, he must have appreciated them. These are models of baroque text expression in music. In every aria certain words and phrases are directly translated in music. Such passages in the vocal part are often prefigured in the part of the melody instrument. One of the differences between Bach and Telemann is that the latter always was very much aware of the needs and desires of amateur musicians. This particular collection bears witness to that. The scoring - one voice, one melody instrument and basso continuo - is such that they could be performed in small churches, which had few musicians at their disposal. It also allows the cantatas to be performed at home, in the circle of family and friends. In order to increase their usefulness the indicated instrument - either recorder, transverse flute, oboe or violin - could be changed for another, depending on what was available. Churches with more varied possibilities could add parts for strings. And Telemann even indicated that the vocal part in the arias could be played on an instrument.

Here the performances reflect the practice in a smallish church. The organ isn't a chamber organ and has pedals, but isn't particularly large. The acoustic, as I have already indicated, is not very reverberant. The singing of Robin Johannsen is a bit of a disappointment. She has a nice voice and her German pronunciation is rather good. But her performance is too flat, especially dynamically. She should have set more accents, in particular in the sometimes long melismatic passages. On the whole her interpretation isn't speech-like enough, and that not only comes to the fore in the arias, but also in the recitatives which are rhythmically too strict. She rightly adds quite some ornamentation in the dacapos, and these are mostly stylish, but some are misjudged. The playing of Gonzalo Ruiz and Jeremy Joseph is excellent, but can't quite make up for the not really satisfying performance of the vocal parts.

Johann Wilhelm Hertel belongs to the next generation, that of the sons of Bach. His three Partitas, two of which are played here, have nothing in common with the chorale partitas by Bach. They are not that different from his trio sonatas for organ. The oboe and the right hand of the organ play the two upper parts, whereas the left hand of the organ plays the basso continuo. These Partitas reflect the galant idiom of the post-baroque era, in particular the Partita I in C. The first movement of the Partita III in d minor contains some spicy harmonies, whereas the largo is quite expressive. The piece closes with a swinging vivace. These two beautiful pieces are brilliantly played, with an immaculate balance between the two instruments. The recording technique rightfully treats them on strictly equal terms.

Although I am not really satisfied with the performance of the cantatas I still recommend it. The playing of Gonzalo Ruiz and Jeremy Joseph is fine, and all the items on the programme are of first-rate quality. In particular those with a special liking for the oboe will enjoy this disc.

Johan van Veen ( 2011)

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