Notes and Editorial Reviews
These cantatas are all products of Telemann’s prodigious final years, dating from 1759 in the case of the first and third, while the second listed was composed in 1762, the year in which the grand old man reached the age of 81. The cantata for Pentecost, Komm Geist des Herrn, is a large-scale work lavishly scored for three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, and strings. The vocal disposition is the usual SATB soloists and choir (in Telemann’s own performances probably one and the same, as with Bach). The cantata is centered round a chorale parody of Luther’s hymn Komm heilger Geist by one of Telemann’s favorite poets, Friedrich Klopstock. This striking example of Telemann’s modernity apparently upset the most conservative of Hamburg’s pastors, whose complaints to the city council sparked off a row in which the composer vigorously defended himself against orders to reinstate Luther’s original text. Anyone reading Klopstock’s fine verse today will wonder what the fuss was about, but the story provides a salutary reminder that clashes between conservatism and “progress” are nothing new. The predominantly joyous character of the cantata is immediately set by the invigorating opening trumpet and drum aria for bass (sung by Ekkehard Abele with resounding authority), its dynamic further enhanced by the thrusting little ornamental figures in the strings. But perhaps the most impressive movement is an accompagnato for tenor, a vivid description of Christ’s spirit manifested in the sudden swirling wind, depicted first by furious scales, then by more gentle rustling figuration. This, along with other imitative effects, is Telemann as the forerunner of the Haydn of The Creation and The Seasons.
Kaum wag ich es is a considerably more modest work, designated simply “church music” and intended for the 19th Sunday after Trinity. Scored for the same vocal forces as Komm Geist, the orchestration calls for only strings. The text is an ode, Die Begnadigung (“The Pardon”), by Joachim Eschenburg, one of the younger poets encouraged by Telemann. It takes as its theme the dark night of the sinner’s soul redeemed by God’s forgiveness, thus being linked to the Epistle for the day (Ephesians 4:17-32), a detail that might have been mentioned by the otherwise profuse booklet notes. Telemann set all six stanzas, treating the first and last as chorales framing short, through-composed arias. The arias chart a progress from the pain of sin (alto), underpinned by an accompaniment of sliding chromatic strings and sharply etched stabbing figures, through remorse, a cantabile aria for tenor supported by expressive string arpeggiations, agitation at the approach of Christ (soprano), and finally to the forgiving words of Jesus.
The final “cantata”—scored for the same forces as the Pentecost cantata with the addition of a pair of flutes—has a text by another young Hamburg poet, Daniel Schiebeler, and is also described as Kirchemusik. Er kam, lobsingt ihm; it follows a similar format to the preceding work, an ode with six stanzas, all but the last of which is a solo. The text for Ascension Day is not only concerned with the risen Christ but also is a retrospective comment on His suffering in death. As in Kaum wag ich es, the care with which Telemann sets this vividly descriptive text is remarkable, achieving in the process a synthesis between words and music of a kind for which one has to look back to the 17th century for models.
Little comment is needed at this late stage on Ludger Rémy’s unfailingly stylish and idiomatic way with Telemann’s music, except to say the alto Elisabeth Graf’s unusually masculine sounding alto is less to my taste than the other soloists, all familiar Rémy regulars. Her diction, too, seems less incisive than that of her colleagues. The engineering is well in line with cpo’s usual high standards, but the poor playing time earns a black mark. The radical manner in which Telemann carried the church cantata forward after Bach’s death is an aspect of his music still scarcely recognized. This outstanding release sheds revealing light on the subject.
FANFARE: Brian Robins