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Georg Philipp TELEMANN & Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH: "Bürgerkapitänsmusiken"

Kateryna Kasper (Der Friedeb, Hammonaa), soprano; Christian Rohrbach (Der Eigennutzb), alto (soprano IIb); Anne Bierwirth (Die Menschenliebea, Die Untreueb), contralto; Christian Zenker (Der Patriotismusa, Die Freudeb), tenor; Gotthold Schwarz (Die Dankbarkeita, Die Herrschsuchtb), Andreas Wolf (Das Glückb), bass
La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider

rec: March 21 - 23, 2014, Magdeburg, Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88883746742 (2 CDs) (© 2014) (1.41'35")
Liner-notes: E/D; no lyrics (lyrics without translation)
Cover & track-list

Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788): Hebt an, ihr Chöre der Freuden (Wq deest / H 822a)a; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): So kömmt die kühne Tapferkeit (TWV 15,19b)b

[ripienists] Jasmin Hörner, soprano; Johannes Strauss, tenor

One of the many duties of the Musikdirektor of Hamburg was the composition of the Kapitänsmusik which was to be performed every year during the convivium, the festive banquet of the sixty-seven members of the officer corps of the civic guard. This event took place on the first Thursday after St Bartholomew's Day (24 August). The Kapitänsmusik consisted of two parts. It started with an oratorio which was performed during the midday meal; the serenata was played in the evening. Telemann composed 36 such works, of which only nine are extant. Only two of such works from the pen of his successor, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, have survived.

To the best of my knowledge this disc is the first which includes a piece from Bach's pen. On the one hand it is interesting to hear compositions by Telemann and Emanuel Bach as they allow to notice the stylistic differences. On the other hand it is rather odd that we get here only one part of the Kapitänsmusiken by both composers. At first I assumed that both works have come down to us incomplete, but that is not the case. I can't quite figure out what has been the reasoning behind this production. These two works were also performed live, but then in the reverse order. That makes sense, because as has been indicated the oratorio was performed first, followed by the serenata. Of course, if you purchase this set you can play the two discs in reverse order.

In recent times several recordings of Kapitänsmusiken by Telemann have been released which have all been reviewed on this site. If you read those reviews you will notice that I rate Telemann's works in this department highly. These pieces are very well written, and the character and quality of the arias is comparable with the best which was written in his time. Telemann is probably still underestimated as a composer of vocal music, but in these works we hear him at his very best. The serenata which has been recorded by Michael Schneider is no exception.

It is no surprise that stylistically Telemann's Kapitänsmusiken are close to opera. For many years he was at the helm of the Oper am Gänsemarkt and composed a considerable number of operas, most of which are unfortunately lost. Moreover, the solo parts in the Kapitänsmusiken were usually performed by singers from the opera. This particular serenata was performed in 1736, and one of the soloists was Margaretha Susanna Kayser, one of the most significant opera singers of her time who participated in many performances of Telemann's operas. The libretto was written by the theologian Joachim Johann Daniel Zimmermann who at the time was Telemann's favourite librettist.

The central issue of the serenata is the peace in Hamburg. The piece opens with a chorus of Heroes which proclaims the return of peace after the defeat of the enemies. Peace (Der Friede) sings a recitative and aria in which he expresses the wish that Hamburg may soon recover from the horrors of war. Fortune (Das Glück) proclaims that it will support peace so that the country will become rich and everyone will enjoy life. Joy (Die Freude) welcomes the partnership of Peace and Fortune. The first part of the serenata ends with a chorus of Shepherds which incites shepherds and nymphs to sing and play and dance.

In the second part three opponents enter the scene. The first is Imperiousness (Die Herrschsucht): only when the whole of Europe bow to his scepter, he may consider laying down arms. Self-Interest (Der Eigennutz) proclaims its superiority over Peace. Lastly Infidelity (Die Untreue) states that promises and treaties are worthless: everything can turn as easily as the wind. Together they urge to go to war. The first three characters reply, and the serenata ends with a chorus which incites the city to enjoy peace, and the authorities are urged to do what is in the town's interest.

Again this serenata includes some very fine arias, such as 'Dein holder Anblick' (Joy) for tenor, obbligato cello and strings playing pizzicato. Another brilliant aria is for Imperiousness: 'Herunter vom Throne', with an obbligato violin part. The trio of the three 'bad' characters, 'Fort, lärmet ihr Trommeln', has an irresistable rhythmic pulse.

The oratorio by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is quite different. The libretto is by Christian Wilhelm Alers, a pupil of Telemann who wrote the libretto of his Der Tag des Gerichts, a Singgedicht of 1762. Again we meet some allegorical figures: Hammona personifies Hamburg, who is supported by Patriotism (Der Patriotismus), Gratitude (Die Dankbarkeit) and Human Kindness (Die Menschenliebe). Although the libretto is more sacred in character, it is also more dramatic than Telemann's serenata. It opens with a chorus of Virtues and Patriots which urges to praise God for his blessings. It is written in rondeau form and the scoring includes trumpets and timpani. In an aria Hammona thanks God who turned her cabins into palaces. Then Gratitude enters, warning against the human inclination to forget to be thankful towards God. Patriotism proclaims that thankfulness is the patriotic duty of the citizens. The first half ends with a chorale: the first stanza of Sollt ich meinen Gott nicht singen (Paul Gerhardt, 1659): "Shall I not sing to my God? Shall I not be thankful to him?"

The second part is a dialogue between Hammona and Human Kindness which is considered the main Christian virtue. In an accompagnato Human Kindness declares that it came from God and asks whether it has still its place in the city. Hammona states that Human Kindness is the patron of her honour and her life's refuge. She will always remain its friend. Hammona and a choir of Patriots confirm the bond between the city and Human Kindness; in this chorus Bach reuses the music of the opening chorus. In the arioso 'Höre von der Wälln Höhn' the latter refers to the sweetly-speaking flute - which is given an obbligato part - and the strong voice of peace. Both characters then reflect on the dangers of war and the horrors which come with it. Their duet 'Zertrümmerte Städte' is again in the form of a rondeau. Patriotism urges to ask God for mercy which is followed by a choir of Patriots doing just that. This chorus - on the melody of the Christmas hymn Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich - ends the oratorio.

The dramatic character of this piece comes especially to the fore in the frequent use of accompanied recitatives. A particularly dramatic episode is the closing section of the accompagnato 'Aus seinem staubbefleckten Helme' with a prominent role of the timpani.

On the whole this recording gives a rather good account of these two works by Telemann and his successor as Musikdirektor in Hamburg. Most of the soloists do a fine job, especially Anne Bierwirth and Christian Zencker. Christian Rohrbach is a male alto who sings here a soprano role; he has a remarkable voice and I would like to hear more of him. Gotthold Schwarz's performance of the aria 'Herunter vom Throne' is one of this disc's highlights. But he is disappointing in his recitative and aria in Bach's oratorio as he uses more vibrato than usually. The weak spot is Kateryna Kasper whose singing is marred by an incessant vibrato. I don't understand that Michael Schneider has allowed this as it really damages this recording. Moreover, her cadenza in Telemann's aria 'Entledigt, ihr Helden' is too long.

It is very regrettable - and in fact unacceptable - that this disc comes without lyrics. That makes it very hard to follow the text and understand the connection between text and music. On the internet I found the programme of a live performance which took place five days after the studio recording. It includes the lyrics in German, without a translation, but it is better than nothing. I have uploaded it to this site; you will find the link in the header.

Let us hope the remaining parts of these two works will appear on disc in the near future.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Kateryna Kasper
Christian Rohrbach
Andreas Wolf
Christian Zenker
La Stagione Frankfurt

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