Notes and Editorial Reviews
If there never had been a J.S. Bach no doubt the name and oeuvre of Georg Philipp Telemann would be held in far greater esteem today--which is to say that some very fine works have been unfairly overlooked and perhaps underrated, standing as they inescapably do in the huge shadow of the great master. But you also could make the case that Bach would not have been the same composer were it not for the influence of Telemann, whom he knew, whose music he highly respected (also copied and arranged), and even chose as godfather to his son C.P.E. This Brockes-Passion certainly stands as a masterpiece, both as a compelling musical work and as a profoundly affecting dramatic rendering of the Passion story.
The text of course comes from Barthold Heinrich Brockes' famous poem, which was set by many composers of the day (including Handel), and whose powerfully descriptive language--including particularly (and unusually) graphic depictions of Christ's trial and crucifixion--did not fail to stir audiences, just as the writer intended. Telemann's music and his structural devices are perfectly designed to maximize the drama and hold our attention while preserving the serious spiritual points of the text--especially reinforcing the conviction that through Christ's suffering and death comes eternal life for all believers.
Telemann achieves this by minimizing the number of momentum-killing da capo arias, by keeping most numbers relatively short but dynamically charged, by employing an incredible variety of music in the crowd choruses, arias, recitatives (both secco and accompanied), duets, and chorales, and by skillfully utilizing a substantial orchestra (requiring some virtuoso soloists) that includes both transverse flutes and recorders, trumpets, horns, viola d'amore, organ, harpsichords, and theorbo.
Telemann shows impressive mastery of orchestration, using his instrumental arsenal to vary timbres and textures to wonderful and often exciting effect (something we expect from Bach, but this is every bit as sophisticated and well-suited to text and mood). Unlike Bach, Telemann is content to set up a beautiful aria that could run for several minutes and then quickly end it ("Gott selbst.." in Part 1; "Ich seh' an einen Stein gebunden" in Part 2) leaving us longing for more, or he may completely change its course, such as in the soprano aria "Heil der Welt" in Part 2, in which Telemann artfully illustrates the text's seemingly conflicted sentiments by combining essentially two arias into one.
And certainly no one has ever written a more compelling--sometimes frightening, always riveting--musical account of the Passion story from the moment of Christ's arrest through the moment of his death. The crowd scenes are particularly memorable and deftly handled--both by Telemann and by these first-rate performers. Telemann also proves nearly as adept as Bach at creating beautiful obbligato instrumental parts in several arias; and he is an assured and tasteful musical scene- and word-painter, notable in the aria "Hier erstarrt mein Herz und Blut" (Here my heart and blood stand still) and in the astonishing moments following Christ's death, where we hear in the orchestra "the roaring in the subterranean caves".
As mentioned, the performers are all excellent--not always the case in productions involving so many performers (six vocal soloists, various instrumental soloists, chorus, orchestra) and of this length (two hours and 20 minutes). But then, there is no finer or more experienced chorus, orchestra, and conductor in baroque repertoire than we have here, and together they and the well-chosen soloists have taken a neglected masterpiece and created another--a standard-setting performance that not only provides substantial listening pleasure but commands renewed respect for Telemann's stature as a composer of both church music and musical drama. The vibrant sound and ideally situated listening perspective, along with the superb notes and elegant packaging complete an essential--and thoroughly enlightening--release for all fans of baroque music.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Brockes Passion, TV 5 no 1 by Georg Philipp Telemann
Johannes Weisser (Baritone),
Birgitte Christensen (Soprano),
Lydia Teuscher (Soprano),
Daniel Behle (Tenor)
Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus,
Academy for Ancient Music Berlin
Written: 1716; Frankfurt, Germany
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