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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst, Vol. 6

Bergen Barokk

rec: April 27 - 30, 2011 & April 10, 2013, Lena (Østre Toten), Hoff kirke
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0180 (© 2015) (73'42")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Der Reichtum macht allein beglückt (TWV 1,313); Ein jeder läuft, der in den Schranken läuft (TWV 1,425); Endlich wird die Stunde schlagen (TWV 1,440); Schaut die Demut Palmen tragen (TWV 1,1245); Schmeckt und sehet unsers Gottes Freundlichkeit (TWV 1,1252); Warum verstellst du die Gebärden? (TWV 1,1502); Was gleicht dem Adel wahrer Christen (TWV 1,1511)

Jan Van Elsacker, tenor; Eduard Wesley, oboe; Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, cello; Adrian Rovatkay, bassoon; Thomas Boysen, theorbo; Christian Kjos, harpsichord; Hans Knut Sveen, harpsichord, organ

Georg Philipp Telemann composed most of his chamber music for amateurs (Liebhaber) and sometimes he had also professionals (Kenner) in mind. The latter means that not all of his music is technically that easy. Moreover, one should not underestimate the skills of amateurs. The purchasers of his music were from the higher echelons of society, and music was part of their education. The collection of sacred cantatas, which Telemann published in 1726 under the title of Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst, bears witness to that. In particular the vocal parts are often quite demanding.

These cantatas were intended for liturgical use as well as performance in domestic surroundings. In the former case the performers were professionals, for instance those who sang the music in the five churches in Hamburg for which Telemann, in his capacity as Musikdirektor, was responsible. Frode Thorsen, in his liner-notes to the present recording of seven cantatas from this collection, states that "[some] of the musicians occasionally had to circulate between the churches in order to meet the requirements of specific instrumentations." When they were performed in domestic surroundings the interpreters were mostly amateurs. It is interesting that Telemann, in his preface, even suggests the cantatas to be performed instrumentally.

Obviously such a performance had to confine itself to the arias, which are scored for voice (high or low), one melody instrument (recorder, transverse flute, oboe or violin) and basso continuo. However, from a liturgical point of view the recitatives are the heart of these cantatas. The title page expressly states that the texts are based on the Epistle readings for each Sunday and feast day of the liturgical year. The recitatives link up with the Epistle reading but they also include references to other biblical passages. Stig Wernø Holter, in his notes about "Scriptural basis and liturgical assignment", writes that the cantatas "are especially well suited to performance at Vespers, since the pastor was supposed to deliver a sermon based on the Epistle text in this Sunday-afternoon service."

The edition of the Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst doesn't give the names of the authors of the texts. When the cantatas were published separately - without the music - it was the name of the jurist and literatus Matthäus Arnold Wilckens who was mentioned as the author of most of them. He was still very young, around 21, at the time of publication. "The texts are informed by a pietistic outlook", Thorsen writes. This means that they focus on faith and piety rather than doctrine. That is certainly correct but there is no strict division between these two aspects. Doctrines can have a direct effect on the way the faithful behave and passages on how the audience should behave often have a doctrinal background. The recitatives include mostly a direct message, addressed to the audience. The arias are of a largely contemplative character which sometimes include the moral which follows from the message. A good example is Schmeckt und sehet unsers Gottes Freundlichkeit. The recitative ends thus: "Yea if you curse your neighbour, the fruit of salvation will become as a sharp thorn. If you hold others in anger, how can you seek mercy from the Lord?" The ensuing aria says: "Torturing vengeance, flaming agony will haunt you, frighten you and gnaw at you! If you have not inhibited your anger, before the end comes, with whimpering, howling, and apprehension, you will be eternally tormented by foaming zeal."

The basic structure of these cantatas is the same: aria - recitative - aria. But sometimes Telemann derives from this scheme. Warum verstellst du die Gebärden and Ein jeder läuft, der in den Schranken läuft open with a very short recitative. In Schmeckt und sehet the recitative in the middle is interrupted by a short arioso on the text "God so loved the world", the first part of the famous text from the gospel of St John (ch 3, vs 16). The arias are different in character. Some are meditative but there are also some quite dramatic arias. The one which closes the above-mentioned cantata Schmeckt und sehet is a telling example and includes chromaticism and wide leaps. Another one is the aria which brings Der Reichtum macht allein beglückt - about the dangers of wealth - to a close. Rapid descending figures illustrate the text: "Hear how the Hell's abyss roars, see what fills the chasm that threatens you with eternal torment! Not only can pride fell you, not only lust plummets to hell, for greed and injustice is an equal reward ready". Telemann never uses an opportunity to depict significant elements in the text. The words "zu früh" (too early) in the last aria from Schaut die Demut Palmen tragen are followed by a meaningful general pause. The opening aria of Ein jeder läuft, der in den Schranken läuft refers to the Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul compares the struggle to reach the Kingdom of God with the athletic games of his time. Telemann sets the text to fast running figures in the vocal and the oboe parts.

This disc is the sixth in a series devoted to the complete collection of Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst. We have here seven cantatas written for various Sundays between the second Sunday of Advent and Palm Sunday. The scoring is the same: high voice - here a tenor - with oboe and bc. One may probably think that this is a little one-sided and fear a lack of variety. There is no reason for that: Telemann's creativity in his treatment of a text and the differention in form guarantees that there is no dull moment here. The performers add their skills to that: Jan Van Elsacker turns out to be a fine interpreter of these cantatas and the playing of the instrumentalists is first-class.

That said, there are some relatively minor issues which need to be mentioned. Van Elsacker's diction is not always perfect: I noted several slips of the tongue and sometimes his vowels are a bit too short. Although he takes a good amount of rhythmic freedom in the recitatives, overall they are probably a little too slow. His German pronunciation is pretty good but not really idiomatic. Sometimes the oboe is a bit too loud in comparison with the voice.

However, like I wrote, these are minor issues. This is another good instalment of a most interesting and very important project.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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