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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Cantatas for Christmastide

La Gioconda

rec: March 9 - 12, 2011, Kartause Mauerbach (near Vienna)
Querstand - VKJK 1107 (© 2011) (63'35")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Erquickendes Wunder der ewigen Gnade (TWV 1,469)a; Erwachet zum Kriegen (TWV 1,481)a; Halt ein mit deinem Wetterstrahle (TWV 1,715)a; Ihr Völker, hört (TWV 1,921)b; Jauchzet, frohlocket, der Himmel ist offen (TWV 1,953)a; Vor des lichten Tages Schein (TWV 1,1483)b

Source: Harmonischer Gottesdienst, 1725/26

Margot Oitzinger, mezzo-soprano; Lucia Froihofer, violina; Barbara Julia Reiter, cello; Anne Marie Dragosits, harpsichord, claviorganum; with: Maria Mittermayr-Pitzl, transverse fluteb

The title of this disc simply says "Kantaten" (Cantatas). From a commercial point of view if would probably have been smarter to add an indication that these cantatas are all written for Christmastide. There is a special interest in music for this time of the year, and too many music lovers will probably think that this is just another disc with cantatas by Telemann of which so many have been released in recent years. It is a worthy addition to the catalogue, though, not only the catalogue of Christmas discs but also of recordings with music by Telemann.

The six cantatas are all from the collection Harmonischer Gottesdienst which Telemann published in 1725/26. It includes cantatas for the whole ecclesiastical year, and was intended for either personal or liturgical use. To that end the composer offered a wide range of possiblities in regard to scoring. All the cantatas are for one voice, one treble instrument and basso continuo. Telemann only indicated the range of the voice - high or low - leaving it to the performer whether cantatas for a low voice would be sung by a mezzo-soprano/alto or by a baritone/bass. The treble parts are given to a specific instrument: recorder, transverse flute, oboe or violin, but that doesn't exclude the possibility of choosing another instrument, even though in some cases it is not easy to do so. Examples on this disc are Erwachtet zum Kriegen, where the violin illustrates a kind of battle scene, and in Ihr Völker, hört in which there is also a close connection between the text and the transverse flute.

The latter is the most remarkable and unconventional cantata. It begins with an aria with an uncommon form. The flute opens the proceedings, and then suddenly the voice breaks in with a recitativic passage. After another passage for the flute the real aria begins. In the recitative Telemann comes up with another surprise: whereas the recitatives in these cantatas are with basso continuo only, this one includes an accompanied passage, in which the flute vividly illustrates the text: "For just look all around you! What is stirring? What roars in the sea?" It is an example of Telemann's ability to express a text in music. The cantatas on this disc includes plenty of examples like this. The opening cantata, Erwachet zum Kriegen (Stand up for war), illustrates the battle, but not with real arms. The cantata, written for the first Sunday of Advent, refers to the reading of that day, Romans 13, 11-14, where the apostle St Paul says that "it is high time to awake out of sleep" and urges his readers to "put on the armour of light".

Vor des Lichtes Tages Schein is for the third Sunday of Advent, when the reading is from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (ch 4, vs 1-4), about God as judge of people. The cantata is a warning against people who think that they can escape his judgement and against judging others instead. The second aria says: If you are not clean as an angel yourself, don't cast the first stone at your neighbour. The throwing of the stone is vividly illustrated in the music. The same happens in the closing aria of Erquickendes Wunder der ewigen Gnade in which the text says that the pagan idols should tumble down and be ridiculed. The cantata is written for the first Day of Christmas and expresses that "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he [God] saved us", as St Paul writes in Titus 3, vs 4 which is part of the reading of that day.

Jauchzet, frohlocket, der Himmel ist offen is for the second day of Christmas. This was also St Stephen's Day, the commemoration of the death of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, as reported by the Acts of the Apostles in chapter 7. The verses 55-59 were the reading of the day, and the text of the cantata refers to St Stephen's saying "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God". The first aria says: "Rejoice, exult, heaven has opened". The cantata expresses the expectation of the city of God, whose splendour ("Pracht") is emphasized in the last aria.

Halt ein mit deinem Wetterstrahle is for New Year's Day. It points out the new time which has started through the coming of Christ. It refers to the reading of the day, St Paul's letter to the Galatians (3, vs 23-29): "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." The first aria also refers to God's appearence at Sinai with thunderstorms and gave his Ten Commandments. It is again a highly evocative piece of music.

These six cantatas are impressive examples of Telemann's skills in translating a text into music. The performers convey them pretty well, although I think they are too moderate. Margot Oitzinger has a very fine voice, probably a little lacking in power at the lower end, but these cantatas are really for a middle voice, not for a true contralto, and therefore it doesn't cause real problems. She is well aware of the fine -tuning of the text and brings out the content quite well. Some words in the arias could have been more strongly emphasized, for instance through dynamic accentuation. The same goes for the instrumental parts. I also would have wished a sharper articulation in those parts as well as in the vocal part, especially in the recitatives. These coulds have been more speech-like and rhythmically more free.

These issues shouldn't hold you back from purchasing this disc. We get here six compelling cantatas which will not only give you much enjoyment during the Christmas season but at any time of the year. This is really music in ogni tempore.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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