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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Die stille Nacht"

Peter Kooij, bass
L'Armonia Sonora
Dir: Mieneke van der Velden

rec: Jan 2017, Hilversum (NL), Lutherse Kerk
Passacaille - 1034 (© 2017) (73'42")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/NL; no lyrics
Cover & track-list

Der am Ölberg zagende Jesus (TWV 1,364); Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen (TWV 1,884); Machet mir das Sterbebette (TWV 1,1348a) [1]; Reiner Geist, laß doch mein Herz (TWV 1,1228); Seliges Erwägen des bittern Leydens und Sterbens Jesu Christi (TWV 5,2) (Gute Nacht, ihr meine Lieben); Sonata in c minor (TWV 42,c8) (affectuoso); Sonata a 4 in G (TWV 43,G10); Sonata a 6 in f minor (TWV 44,32)

[1] Auszug derjenigen musicalischen und auf die gewöhnlichen Evangelien gerichteten Arien, welche in den Hamburgischen Haupt-Kirchen durchs 1727. Jahr vor der Predigt aufgeführet werden, 1727

Singers who would like to perform or record German sacred music almost immediately look at the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach. Unfortunately for them, he did not compose that many cantatas for a single voice. There are just three solo cantatas for bass in Bach's oeuvre, and one of them, Der Friede sei mit dir (BWV 158, raises many questions in regard of its authenticity in the form in which is has been preserved. In recent times some singers have turned to Telemann, who is taken increasingly seriously as a composer of sacred music. In the last ten years or so several recordings of solo cantatas have been released, recorded by, among others, Klaus Mertens. Some cantatas have received a status which is not quite comparable with that of Bach's cantatas for bass, but come pretty close to it. One of them is the cantata which opens the programme that Peter Kooij recorded with the ensemble L'Armonia Sonora.

The disc's title is taken from the opening line of Der am Ölberg zagende Jesus: "Die stille Nacht umschloss den Kreiß der Erden" (The silence of night surrounded Earth's sphere). The cantata is intended for Passiontide, and was written in 1741. It begins with an accompanied recitative, which describes the horrible scene of Jesus entering the garden of Gethsemane. This is reminiscent of the Passion-Oratorios of that time, like the Brockes-Passion. That is also the case with the next aria in which Jesus himself is speaking: "Ich bin betrübt bis in den Tod" (I am sorrowful unto death). This is depicted by suspiratio figures in the strings. In the next recitative it is the bystander again who is speaking, describing how Jesus turns his eyes to heaven and asks - and here the next aria begins: "My Father! If you will it so, then let this cup pass me by." In the last two lines he expresses his submission to the will of his Father: "Your will alone shall be done". Here the accompaniment is reduced to basso continuo alone, with the strings playing a short ritornello to end the aria. After another short recitative the closing aria contains a moral conclusion: "Come here, you children of men, come here, unrepentant sinners, see what Jesus does for you". According to New Grove the instrumental scoring of this cantata is for two transverse flutes, two oboes, strings and basso continuo. However, in other recordings (Philippe Jaroussky, Klaus Mertens) only strings are involved, and in the present recording the two flutes play colla parte with the strings. The wind parts could well be ad libitum, with flutes and oboes as alternatives. However, as I don't have access to the score, I can't check.

Next is Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen, a cantata for the 21st Sunday after Trinity. It is an early work, whose text was written by Erdmann Neumeister. This text also seems to have inspired the anonymous poet of Bach's cantata Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (BWV 56). The first aria states the willingness to share in Jesus' way of the cross, which is the inevitable result of being adopted as God's child. The following recitative underlines the inevitable connection between being a Christian and bearing Jesus' cross: "There is no Christian where there is no cross". The cross is even "a pleasant burden". Behind this is the faith that "what God does is well done" - here the first line of the popular hymn is quoted: "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan". The next aria has an uplifting character which is reflected by the use of a major key: "The myrrhs of the pains are sugar to the heart". In the next recitative the expectation of being in heaven is expressed: "The cross is my ladder to heaven; on it I climb up to God". The last aria expresses the longing for being received in heaven: "If the hour of my departure is not yet near, then give me but the answer: Yes!". On the last line the music speeds up, and the word "ja" is repeated several times, and then, after a short pause, the cantata ends with another "ja" in the bass' lowest register. The scoring of this cantata is comparable to that of the cantatas which Telemann would include in his Hamburg years in his Harmonischer Gottesdienst: solo voice, violin and basso continuo. The violin plays a substantial part in the expression of the text.

Reiner Geist, laß doch mein Herz dates from the 1720s and is composed for Whitsun. The libretto was written by Georg Christian Lehms (1684 - 1717), a former student in Leipzig, who was court poet in Darmstadt. His texts were frequently used by Christoph Graupner, and two of Bach's most famous solo cantatas (BWV 35 and 170) are settings of texts from his pen. In this cantata the believer asks the Holy Spirit to give him the true faith and then for being taken into heaven. This is another cantata for a small scoring: bass, transverse flute (probably with the violin as an alternative) and basso continuo. In the second aria there is a marked contrast between the two sections. It is notable that the B section ends with a short recitative, before returning to the A section.

The vocal part of this disc is extended by two single arias. 'Machet mir das Sterbebette' is taken from a collection of arias, which Telemann extracted from previously-written sacred cantatas, and which he published separately in 1727, in a reduced scoring for solo voice and basso continuo (*). This aria is from the cantata So der Geist des, der Jesum von den Toten for the 14th Sunday after Trinity. The programme ends as it started, with music for Passiontide. Telemann's oratorio Seliges Erwägen des bittern Leydens und Sterbens Jesu Christi was originally written in 1719, when Telemann was working in Frankfurt, and reworked and completed three years later. Its first performance in Hamburg took place in 1722, on Monday of Holy Week. It must have found a good reception, as it was performed many times in the following decades. Recently a new recording was released on Aparté. 'Gute Nacht, ihr meine Lieben' is an aria of Jesus from the first meditation, which is devoted to the last Supper. Arias put into the mouth of Jesus are a typical feature of Passion oratorios written in Germany at the time.

Peter Kooij is a seasoned interpreter of German baroque music, and therefore one may expect entirely convincing interpretations. He does not disappoint. He has a very flexible voice which allows him to deal with the coloratura with much ease. He is very responsive to the text and explores the contrasts in Telemann's music to the full, for instance in the accompagnato which opens Der am Ölberg zagende Jesus. The aria Machet mir das Sterbebette is performed with wonderful sensitivity. He receives excellent support from the players of L'Armonia Sonora. They contribute some instrumental works, most of which belong to the lesser-known. The Sonata a 4 is an example of a combination of old and new, represented by the viole da gamba and the transverse flute respectively. It is a piece in the galant idiom, whereas the Sonata a 6 is more rooted in the German contrapuntal tradition. The two string parts are intended for viole da gamba in the alto and tenor range respectively - and that is how they are played here - but can also be performed on violas.

This disc is another outstanding contribution to the growing Telemann discography. However, the fact that the booklet omits the lyrics is a serious blunder.

(*) Gudrun Sidonie Otto, with her GSOConsort, recorded two programmes of arias from this collection: "Advent Cantatas", "Sacred Arias".

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Mieneke van der Velden

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