musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Ino Cantata"

Ana Maria Labin, sopranoa
La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider

rec: Jan 22 - 23, 2014, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88883746732 (© 2015) (58'08")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list
Score Ino
Score Overture in D

Ino, cantata for soprano and orchestra (TWV 20,41); Overture for 2 transverse flutes, bassoon, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D23) & Fanfare for two transverse flutes, horn, strings and bc (TWV 50,44)

Georg Philipp Telemann is best-known for his instrumental works, both orchestral pieces and chamber music. In his time he was also one of the main composers of opera. He himself wrote that he composed more than 50 operas; unfortunately documentary evidence exists of only 29, and no more than nine have come down to us complete. Other operas have survived in fragmentary form, and from some operas we only know some arias. Telemann started to compose operas when he worked in Leipzig. None of these has been preserved complete. He returned to the composition of opera when he had been appointed as Musikdirektor in Hamburg. His first opera performed in the Oper am Gänsemarkt was Der geduldige Socrates, which is only his second extant work for the stage. Although most of his operatic output has been lost, his extant works for the stage and what has been preserved in fragmentary form gives a fairly good impression of his great skills in this department. The main work of the present disc further underlines his dramatic talents.

Ino is called a cantata but is in fact a dramatic scene which one could compare with, for instance, Arianna a Naxos by Haydn. It dates from 1765 and is scored for soprano with an orchestra of two transverse flutes, two horns, strings and bc. The text was written by Karl Wilhelm Ramler who was also the author of the Passion oratorio Der Tod Jesu which Telemann had set in 1755. Ramler was part of a circle of poets, musicians and philosophers in Berlin. They organized private concerts and Telemann was one of the most frequently-performed composers. Such concerts took place in the music salon of the lawyer, court councillor and amateur musician Christian Gottfried Krause. The cantata Ino may have been performed during such concerts as well. A copy has been preserved but that is in fact an arrangement by Krause. It is notable that it was generally thought that Krause was the composer of the piece. It was only after his death in 1770 that the truth was revealed: Telemann was the composer and the cantata "had been altered in Berlin by the late Herr Krause". The two copies of Telemann's original have survived but seem to include various differences some of which may be the work of an arranger. By comparing the various sources it has been possible - at least that is what is stated in the booklet - to create a score which "comes closer to the lost Telemann autograph manuscript than any previous version". I have to take the author's word for it as obviously I can't check this statement.

The libretto in the booklet is preceded by a description of the mythological background. "Made pregnant by Zeus in human form, Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, is consumed by the god's lightning when he returns to her as a god. But he rescues their child, Didymus, whom he entrusts to Semele's sister, Ino, and to Ino's husband Athamas. Zeus's wife, Hera (also known as Saturnia), remains jealous of her husband's infidelities and punishes Semele and Athamas by driving them mad. Athamas kills his son Learchos, and Ino leaps into the sea with their other son Melicertes. Ino is transformed into the sea goddess Leucothea, and Melicertes becomes the sea god Palaemon".

The last stage of this story is the subject of this cantata. It opens with a couple of bars from the orchestra which sets the tone. Ino bursts out in utterances of despair: "Whither? Whither should I fly? My raging husband is pursuing me." This short accompanied recitative is followed by the first aria in operatic style, 'Ungöttliche Saturnia': "Godless Saturnia, will vengeance always inflame you?" Then follows a highly dramatic accompanied recitative which impressively shows Telemann's skills in composing for the stage. The recitative ends with Ino jumping into the sea. An instrumental episode follows. Next we get a sinfonia followed by another recitativo accompagnato which includes several arioso episodes:"Where am I? O heaven! Do I still draw breath?" When she sees her son Telemann prescribes the character as vivace con molto affetto. This recitative is followed by the Dance of the Tritons. In the next recitative and aria Ino reacts to the fact that she and her son have turned into gods. "Do you mean me, O Nereids? Are you welcoming me as your sister? Do you mean my son, O gods?" In the following recitative she expresses her gratitude, and the cantata closes with the longest aria of the piece - nine minutes in the present recording - which is a song of praise. The B part which speaks about "torments", "accumulated sufferings" and "the deepest grotto" is dominated by low notes, dark colours and a slow tempo. It is one of the many episodes which Telemann has effectively depicted in his music.

This cantata is generally considered a masterpiece and rightly so. It is also quite astonishing that Telemann composed it when he was 84 years of age. Apparently his creative powers were unbroken. One could say that with this piece he returns to his past in that it has the character of an opera. Stylistically it is very different from his operas, though. These all date from the time he wrote in the baroque idiom. This cantata is very modern. Probably even too modern for his time, as Wolfgang Hirschmann suggests in his liner-notes. "[In] his arrangement Christian Gottfried Krause replaced the main section of the closing aria Tönt in meinen Lobgesang (Join in my song of praise) by a new composition in the style of the younger Graun - by music, in other words, whose style he was familiar with. In this aria, Telemann goes much further and writes music that points the way to Gluck and the young Mozart. Though nearly 40 years younger, Krause apparently failed to understand the advanced style of this piece".

Ana Maria Labin is a new name to me; I can't remember ever having heard her before. She succeeds in exploring the dramatic qualities of the score. Her website reveals that she has quite some experience in opera and that shows. From a dramatic point of view this is an outstanding interpretation. According to her biography she is "[very] devoted to the baroque repertoire". Unfortunately that has not resulted in a stylistically convincing performance. It is the usual problem: an incessant and pretty strong vibrato which really spoils the enjoyment of this recording. It is a mystery to me why a singer believes that every single note should be sung with vibrato and why a musical director like Michael Schneider is willing to accept such a way of singing. One can only hope that the apparent new edition of this work will be recorded another time by a singer who is more willing or able to oblige to the vocal aesthetics of the time.

Whereas Ino points to the future the Overture in D is a rather conservative work, considering the time of composition: 1763. At that time the French suite which had been so popular in Germany for such a long time, had become almost completely obsolete. Composers started to write sinfonias, modelled after the Italian opera overture which would develop into the classical symphony. Telemann's colleague Fasch decided to mix elements of both forms. His late orchestral suites open with a traditional ouverture - although slightly adapted to the current taste - which is followed by a slower movement - mostly an andante - and a short movement in a fast tempo as was common in the sinfonia. Telemann's Overture in D has basically the same texture as the many suites he composed earlier in his career. However, the organization of the various movements is a bit different. The opening ouverture is followed by a pair of menuets which normally appeared towards the end. This work also includes a plainte which was particularly old-fashioned and is reminiscent of French operas of the late 17th century. It is notable that Telemann links it to a gaillarde. These two movements are paired: the plainte is followed by the gailliarde and is then repeated. The suite ends with a passacaille, another rather old-fashioned form. In several movements the two flutes are given solo passages, for instance in the ouverture. The passepied II is for the two flutes and the bassoon, without strings and bc. In this recording the Overture in D is followed by a separate piece, called Fanfare. It is played as if it is part of the suite. That seems a bit odd as its scoring is partly different: it has no bassoon part and includes a part for horn which does not take part in the suite.

The Overture is given a fine performance by La Stagione Frankfurt; the orchestra also fully explores the features of the instrumental score of the cantata. It is just a shame that stylistically speaking Ana Maria Labin spoils the party. That makes it hard to unequivocally recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Ana Maria Labin
La Stagione Frankfurt

CD Reviews