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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Jauchzet ihr Himmel, frohlocke du Erde!"

Gotthold Schwarz, bass
Members of the Thomanerchor Leipziga; Sächsisches Barockorchester
Dir: Gotthold Schwarz

rec: April 14 - 17 & 28, 2008, Leipzig, Bethanienkirche
Rondeau - ROP6022 (© 2008) (78'05")

Es sind schon die letzten Zeiten (TWV 1,529)a; In Gott vergnügt zu leben (TWV 1,942); Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt (TWV 7,21); Jesus liegt in letzten Zügen (TWV 1,983); Reiner Geist lass doch mein Herz (TWV 1,1228); Wo soll ich fliehen hin? (TWV 1,1724)a

In the booklet of this recording Gunnar Wiegand once again refers to the succession of Johann Kuhnau as Thomaskantor in Leipzig in 1722. The preferred candidate of the city council was Georg Philipp Telemann, then the most famous composer in Germany. Of course, the story has been told umpteen times, but in this case it makes sense as it is told from the perspective of Telemann. It is often suggested Telemann only used the invitation to join Kuhnau to make the authorities in Hamburg to raise his salary and to extend his responsibilities. But it seems to me there is little to support this 'accusation': as soon as he received the invitation from Leipzig he travelled to the city where he once had been a student at the university and director of a Collegium Musicum. As soon as he returned he asked the city council to be released from his duties. And Leipzig, after all, was not some provincial town, but an intellectual centre with a renowned university.

Telemann is also often juxtaposed to Johann Sebastian Bach - the former modern and forward-looking, the latter conservative and rooted in the past with its central role of counterpoint. But these contrasts are highly exaggerated: Telemann was certainly able to compose in polyphonic style and Bach wasn't afraid to compose in the modern galant idiom. The cantatas on this disc show that Telemann has written cantatas which are certainly not short of text expression and not fundamentally different from the way Bach wrote sacred music.

More than 1400 sacred cantatas by Telemann have been preserved, and 54 are written for a solo bass. Some of them Telemann has written for himself to sing: in particular in his time in Frankfurt he had to sing during Sunday services because of a lack of basses. In his application he described himself as baritone. But the cantatas recorded on this disc were all written in Hamburg. All but one of the cantatas are written on texts by unknown poets. It is suggested Telemann himself could have composed at least some of the texts. The instrumental scoring of these cantatas is various: apart from strings and basso continuo we hear instruments like transverse flute, oboe(s), bassoon, trumpet and corno da caccia. Two cantatas contain four-part chorales.

The disc opens with a cantata for New Year's Day on the text of Psalm 100, Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt. It is the only cantata whose structure is a bit different: it begins with an aria, which is followed by an arioso, then follows the only recitative and the cantata goes on with three arias. Considering its content it isn't surprising the scoring contains a part for trumpet, alongside violin, viola and bc. Sensibly the trumpet is left out in the last verse: "For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations". The trumpet returns in the closing "Amen". Words like "jauchzet", "Freuden" and "frohlocken" contain extended coloraturas.

The next cantata is written for Passiontide, Jesus liegt in letzten Zügen. It is the latest cantata of this disc and dates from 1758. The text is close to the Passion oratorios of those days. A bystander witnesses the last moments of Jesus at the cross which is a "miserable sight": "the most beautiful of all human beings has become unrecognizable and deformed". Then he reflects upon his bright future thanks to Jesus' passion and death. The first two arias are dominated by descending figures, the last aria is more joyful.

Reiner Geist lass doch mein Geist dates from the 1720s and is composed for Whitsun. The libretto was written by Georg Christian Lehms (1684 - 1717), who was court poet in Darmstadt and whose texts were also used by Bach in two of his most famous solo cantatas (BWV 35 and 170). In this cantata the believer asks the Holy Spirit to give him the true faith and then for being taken into heaven. The appealing character is perfectly reflected by the scoring in which the transverse flute joins the violin and the basso continuo in all three arias.

Very different is the scoring of the next cantata, In Gott vergnügt zu leben, which is written for Trinity. The text is inspired by the Revelation and expresses the majesty of God on his heavenly throne. In the three arias transverse flute, oboe and corno da caccia join the two violins. In particular the role of the corno da caccia is interesting: in the middle aria it plays with the basso continuo. Is this a direct reflection of the text: "I am bowing at your feet, o thou endless great God"? Also remarkable is the first recitative, 'Ihr Sinnen! Reißt euch los'. On the text "O! what a pure light that breaks off the bright throne" a violin suddenly enters.

Wo soll ich fliehen hin is for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity. It is again a late cantata, from the 1750s and is about sin as expressed in the well-known chorale. The Sunday's gospel is the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18) and the cantata links up with this by concentrating on a plea for God's forgiveness. The cantata opens and closes with a chorale.

The last cantata is Es sind schon die letzten Zeiten, written for the 25th Sunday after Trinity. It is based on Jesus' speech on the end of the world (Matthew 24). The text makes use of apocalyptic pictures to urge people to wake up from "their sleep in sins and the mud of death" and to think about the afterlife. The second aria is a lively depiction of the sulphur, pitch and excruciating pains which will be the reward of the sinners. Telemann doesn't miss the opportunities to paint these pictures in music. This cantata also begins and ends with a chorale.

The central figure on this disc is the bass Gotthold Schwarz. He also directs the ensemble which plays very well and explores the colourful settings of the text by Telemann. Gotthold Schwarz doesn't have a voice which immediately attracts, and there are basses who make a more lasting impression. But what is most important is that he is very convincing in the delivery of the text; his diction is exemplary and even without reading the lyrics one can understand every word. He follows all the nuances in text and music closely, and in doing so makes the many qualities of these cantatas to come out. The choir consists of 14 boys and men who sing the chorales well although these could have been given a bit more weight.

To sum up: this is a most enjoyable addition to the growing catalogue of recordings with sacred music by Telemann. It is a shame, though, that the booklet doesn't contain English translations of the lyrics.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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Sächsisches Barockorchester

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