Notes and Editorial Reviews
A fine recording of what is a true masterpiece of an old man, who was still young in spirit.
Telemann was one of Germany's most famous and most prolific composers. Until the very end of his life he was productive and even innovative.
Der Tag des Gerichts bears witness to that. It was to be performed in March 1762 when Telemann had just turned 82. He complained about his failing eyesight, but his energy to compose had not left him. The work would be performed at the new concert hall
auf dem Kamp which opened in 1761 and which was a great innovation in that it could be heated. Telemann immediately saw all sorts of opportunities for performances of his music.
Der Tag des Gerichts shows that he was
still as creative as ever.
The text of this
Singgedicht was written by the poet, philosopher and theologian Christian Wilhelm Alers, and shows the influence of one of Germany's most famous poets, Friedrich Gottlob Klopstock. Its subject is the Last Judgement which is presented in four tableaus, called
Betrachtungen, literally "observations", but probably more appropriately translated as "contemplations". In the first the whole idea of a last judgement is ridiculed by
Unglaube (Disbelief) and
Spötter (Mocker) who are contradicted by
Vernunft (Reason). He emphasizes the reality of the Last Judgement which is then confirmed by
Religion. This part ends with a chorus of the
Gläubigen (the Faithful), who praise God's judgement to come.
The second part begins with a chorus announcing the coming of Jesus. Then follows an accompanied recitative in which
Andacht (Devotion) describes the phenomena which attend his coming, like thunder and lightning, tempest and a raging sea.
Glaube (Faith) then celebrates the rise of the faithful from these terrible circumstances and their entry into heaven. The third part describes Jesus' judgement. The heart is an aria by Jesus, 'Seid mir gesegnet, ihr Gerechten' (Be blessed, ye righteous) which is followed by a chorus of the Faithful, in the form of a chorale. Then we hear a recitative by Disbelief expressing fear of Jesus' condemnation which is followed by a chorus of
Laster (Vices) asking the mountains to cover them. This part ends with Jesus' condemnation of the wicked.
The fourth part is a thanksgiving for the blessing of the righteous and their life with Jesus in heaven. It begins with a chorus of the
Engel (Angels) and
die Auserwählten (the Chosen) and is followed by a sequence of three arias of three
Seligen (Blessed), interspersed by choruses of Blessed with a solo by
Johannes (the apostle St John who is the writer of the Apocalypse). The chorus repeat "Heilig ist unser Gott" (Holy is our God). The oratorio ends with a chorus of
die Himmlischen (the Celestials).
Der Tag des Gerichts is one of Telemann's masterworks. He has set the text in a most dramatic way. The first part, with the dialogue between Disbelief, Mocker and Reason, could easily be a scene from an opera. After all, Telemann was a regular contributor to the
Oper am Gänsemarkt until its closure in 1738. The recitatives are dramatic and in the arias Telemann fully explores the
Affekts and vividly depicts the text. Impressive are the tremolos in the basses and the almost shouting declamation of the voices in the opening chorus of the second part. The chorus of the Vices at the end of part 3 is full of striking dissonances.
The instrumental scoring is carefully chosen to underline the content of the various arias. One of the most striking parts of this work is the accompanied recitative in which Devotion describes the coming of Jesus for the Last Judgement. The way Telemann uses the orchestra here in order to represent the natural phenomena like thunder and tempest points into the direction of Haydn's oratorios. Also innovative is that some choruses have the form of a song and are devoid of counterpoint. The closing chorus takes the form of a rondeau which was especially popular in France, and in this way Telemann returns to the beginning: the oratorio starts with a French overture. Remarkable are the three arias of the Blessed in the fourth part. In them the soloists are accompanied by a viola da gamba - an old-fashioned instrument at the time -, two violins and an oboe respectively.
Gotthold Schwarz has chosen for a performance with one voice per part. I am not sure whether this was the correct decision. It is known that Telemann, who in his capacity as
Musikdirektor was responsible for the music in the liturgy of several churches in Hamburg, didn't have many singers at his disposal. But it is quite possible that more singers were available for performances in a concert hall. The addition of
ripienists could have made the choruses a little more powerful, in particular those where the brass section is involved. Even so, these come off well, probably also thanks to the rather intimate acoustic. The largest solo parts are sung by Susanne Krumbiegel and Gotthold Schwarz himself, who give excellent accounts of their various roles (some of these are allocated to various singers as one can see in the header of this review). Both have strong voices and their delivery is immaculate. Tobias Unger has smaller roles, but sings them very well. He has a nice voice and a good diction. Siri Karoline Thornhill is a bit insecure now and then and doesn't have that much impact. Her voice is probably also a bit too weak for a highly dramatic work like this. The playing of the orchestra leaves nothing to be desired.
The booklet contains programme notes in German and English, but the lyrics are not translated which is a serious omission. I couldn't find a translation on the internet either. It shouldn't hold you back from purchasing this fine recording of what is a true masterpiece of an old man, who was still young in spirit.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International
TELEMANN Der Tag des Gerichts TWV 6:8 • Gotthold Schwarz (bs, cond); Siri Karoline Thornhill (sop); Susanne Krumbiegel (alt); Tobias Hunger (ten); Bach Consort Leipzig (period instruments) • RONDEAU 6036 (73:17 Text and Translation)
Georg Philipp Telemann’s contemplation on the Last Judgment, the “Singgedicht” Der Tag des Gerichts (The Day of Judgment), has always been intriguing for me. Although it is here (and elsewhere) labelled an oratorio, the four-part text is in reality a series of glosses and personal views on the Apocalypse, ranging from the staid and proper view of Disbelief (Unglaube) to the exhortation of Jesus himself to the faithful. Intermixed into all this are descriptive moments of the roiling clouds and lightning, the stentorian pronouncements of the Archangel of the Apocalypse, and the soft, almost bucolic wonderment of one of those saved. Telemann does all this without either descending into rote Affekt or conventionality. This is all the more impressive when one realizes that the composer was in his 80s and suffering from a range of complaints ranging from fatigue to failing eyesight, and yet showing little if any diminishing of his creative powers.
I was introduced to this work many, many moons ago with an old Arkiv LP with Harnoncourt (re-released in CD, of course), which was replaced about two decades ago with the reliable Hermann Max and his Rheinische Kantorei on Capriccio. I’ve also found a D’Note Classics disc from 2006, so it is not entirely unknown to the discography. This recording, however, will probably set the standard for any others that will come. Bass Gotthold Schwarz also acts as conductor for this ensemble, and more intriguing is that the four soloists also act as the chorus. I’d be skeptical that this would work (preferring at least a doubling of the voices), but I will have to say that here the sound is so resonant that it seems like there are more performers than there actually are. This may be the result of the venue, a castle chapel, but I would venture to note that it was probably fairly common throughout Northern Germany at the time. The music suffers from it not one whit. As for Telemann’s generous scoring, the Bach Consort players make short, easy work of the often tortuous parts. Indeed, the rapid triplets of the clarino parts in the choruses seem effortless, while the trio of horns offers a nice, full sonority that outlines the function of “die letzte Posaune” in a full-bodied powerful statement (and for those who still don’t know what this means, the translation of what we would call the “last trumpet” in English is actually rendered as “the last trombone,” a strange metaphor at the very least, though dating all the way back to Martin Luther and before; Telemann’s use of a horn trio does a nice job of bridging this semantic gap). I’ve always enjoyed the rollicking gigue-like choruses that end the first part and permeate the final section, replete with hemiola emphases at the cadences. This is as close to a “Take that, you evil-doers!” as one might find musically, literally having the saved celebrate and dance their way to Paradise. Finally, the various arias (and plethora of accompanied recitative) fit nicely into the tone of the whole, rather than offering a more generic sort of cantata display. Disbelief’s first aria chiding the faithful for shuddering at every peal of thunder (“Fürchtet nur”) is wonderfully galant in style, while the final aria of the Blessed (“Seeliger”) with its lovely intertwining oboe and cello lines weaves a sonority that would not be out of place in Gluck, though sounding more like a late Bach cantata than anything. There is even a bit of Handel in the relentless walking bass of the bass solo with chorus “Das Lamm, das erwürget ist,” especially in the final Amen moment.
The performance of both soloists and ensemble are virtually spotless, with a nice sense of integration of tone, phrasing, and color. My only quibble is with the text, which seems to be printed in German only. Still, since this is available elsewhere in the usual English or French translations, this should cause only a momentary discomfort. For my view, I would say that this will take its place alongside the Rheinische Kantorei disc as a model for how one might perform this neat work.
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Works on This Recording
Der Tag des Gerichts, TV 6 no 8 by Georg Philipp Telemann
Siri Thornhill (Soprano),
Susanne Krumbiegel (Alto),
Gotthold Schwarz (Bass)
Leipzig Bach Consort
Written: 1762; Hamburg, Germany
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