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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Trio Sonatas & Cantatas

Ensemble Luxurians
Dir: Alina Rotaru

rec: March 25 - 27, 2008, Bremen, Hochschule für die Künste (Galerie)
Querstand - VKJK 0913 (© 2009) (59'09")

Du bist verflucht, o Schreckensstimme (TWV 1,385)abe [1]; Hemmet den Eifer, verbannet die Rache (TWV 1,730)abe [1]; Sonata for recorder, descant viol and bc in C (TWV 42,C2)cd; Sonata for recorder, descant viol and bc in d minor (TWV 42,d7)cd; Sonata for recorder, descantviol and bc in g minor (TWV 42,g9)cd; Trio for viola da gamba, harpsichord and bc in G (TWV 42,G6)e [2]; Trio for recorder, harpsichord and bc in B flat (TWV 42,B4)c [2]

(Sources: [1] Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst, 1725/26; [2] Essercizii Musici, 1739/40)

Margaret Hunter, sopranoa; Boglárka Baykovb, Barbara Heindlmeierc, recorder; Christian Heim, descant viold, bass viole; Leonard Trommel, cello; Simon Linné, theorbo; Alina Rotaru, harpsichord

Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the first composers of the baroque era who was rediscovered when the interest in early music manifested itself. That was in the early 20th century. In her programme notes Greta Haenen rightly refers to the fact that it were in particular the recorder and the viola da gamba which attracted the interest of lovers of baroque music. And Telemann's oeuvre turned out to be a goldmine as he composed for every instrument of his time, in every conceivable genre and at various levels. As a representative of the Enlightenment he was specifically interested in writing music which dilettantes could play at home or at social gatherings.

With the development of the early music movement Telemann's oeuvre became the victim of what one could call the 'dialectics of progress'. It was still the chamber music, and in particular the pieces with recorder, which were frequently played, but other aspects of Telemann's oeuvre were largely ignored. And as the music of the likes of Bach and Handel was explored Telemann was sometimes discredited as second or third rank. Part of this prejudice was also the fact that he composed so much. That was not in line with the still predominant - and romantic - idea of a composer labouring and perspiring to create a masterwork.

The last 10 years or so have seen a great increase in the interest in Telemann, which is reflected by an ongoing stream of recordings. Right now most of his solo concertos and a large number of orchestral overtures are available on disc, and also several collections of chamber music. It is particularly the sacred music of which only a small proportion has been explored. That isn't surprising considering the huge amount of compositions in this genre. Telemann composed about 1,400 sacred cantatas, so there is still much to be discovered.

Every disc with some of Telemann's cantatas is to be welcomed. The combination of trio sonatas with cantatas from his collection Der harmonische Gottesdienst is logical. These cantatas are scored for solo voice, one treble instrument and basso continuo, and in that respect quite comparable to the trio sonata, especially as the voice and the instrument are treated on equal footing. All cantatas are written for a specific Sunday, and it was a nice gesture to mention the passage from the Bible which was the reading of that day in the booklet. These cantatas were not only written for ecclesiastical use, though. The scoring also opens the possibility to perform them at home, as sacred chamber music.

Hemmet den Eifer is for the fourth Sunday after Trinity, when Romans 13, 8-10 was read. The central subject is the commandment to love one's neighbour: "Curb your zeal, dispel your wrath, smother all bitterness - Be guided by love". The three verses from Romans are paraphrased in the recitative which is in the centre of this cantata. The closing aria begins with the words: "Yes, yes, I want to love my neighbour, for God gives me this guideline".

Du bist verflucht is for Sunday Laetare; the text of the day is Galatians 4, 21-31. It is about Jesus who has brought freedom and broke the power of sin. The recitative is rather long, reflecting the lenght of the biblical passage. Telemann has set this text in a very evocative way, which emphasizes once again that writing pleasing melodies is only one aspect of his composing. There is some chromaticism on the word "Schreckensstimme" (voice of terror) in the first aria, and a coloratura on "frohlocket" (rejoice) in the second. The word "Fessel" (chains) is depicted by a meandering melisma.

Two of the trio sonatas on this disc are from the collection Essercizii Musici, which was printed in 1739 or 1740. The title indicates that they had a didactic purpose: they provided the music-loving bourgeoisie with pieces to play, and they are scored for almost all common instruments of Telemann's time in various combinations. The most remarkable pieces are those in which the harpsichord is playing a concertante role, which was relatively new (although Johann Sebastian Bach had already written his sonatas for keyboard and violin).

The three other trio sonatas are all Telemann has written for the combination of recorder and descant viol. The use of the descant viol bears witness to Telemann's preference for the French style. In France this instrument was called the pardessus de viole and was quite popular in the first half of the 18th century. But in Germany few composers wrote any music for it; Johann Melchior Molter was one of the few, and that could well be the result of him being influenced by Telemann. The recorder and the descant viol blend very well; that becomes especially clear in the last movement of the Trio in g minor in which they play unisono in some passages.

There are many memorable moments in these trios. Among them are the expressive slow movements of the Trio in d minor, and the grave from the Trio in C. Noticeable is also the largo from the latter, which is written in ABA form. In the A section the obbligato harpsichord imitates the viola da gamba, whereas the B section is for gamba only. And the Trio in d minor ends with a quite theatrical allegro.

This disc offers a most interesting picture of Telemann's versatility as a composer and his ability to write expressive music, not only in his cantatas but in his chamber music as well. The performances leave nothing to be desired. The ensemble's playing is often infectious, and the members play with imagination, adding a variety of ornaments without overdoing it. I am also impressed by Margaret Hunter's interpretation of the cantatas. In particular praiseworthy is the rhythmically free performance of the recitatives which are truly speechlike. The German pronunciation is almost flawless. Only now and then the diction is a little sloppy, in particular in fast passages.

In short, this disc is an ideal way to become acquainted with Telemann's qualities and the depth of his musical imagination. The booklet contains an interesting essay by Greta Haenen about Telemann and his time, but I would have liked a bit more about the music played here. The lack of catalogue numbers in the tracklist is also a serious omission. But let these things not withhold you from purchasing this disc. It is worth every penny.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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