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Fanfare Magazine: 44:1 (09-10/2020) 
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Reviewer:  David Reznick

As the essay in the accompanying booklet informs us, in March of 1292, Persia was in turmoil. It had just been attacked by the Afghan army. Change “Persia” to its modern name (Iran), and we can see that the gentleman who remarked, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” wasn’t just whistling Dixie. Turmoil in1722, turmoil in 2020. Nothing’s changed but the clothes (minimally). The Iranian motto should be “Smile when you say that, podner,” but they couldn’t get it to fit on their flag. (So they settled for “Ayatollah You So.”) (Sorry. Minimally.)

The heartbreak, the triumphs, the brutality and heroism of war, would seem to be a natural for an opera libretto. But not all wars are the same. If Telemann had only managed to live a few more years, he could have written an opera about George Washington and become the American National Composer. (NOTE: Although he did compose an opera entitled Ferdinand and Isabella—maybe on Columbus Day?) But an opera’s success doesn’t usually rest with the libretto. Consider the number of foolish stories, stilted conversations, and pages of recitative which serve modern CD listeners as bathroom breaks but forced 18th-century audiences to sit through them, wondering how they ever got into this predicament. A libretto such as Miriways is useful only if succeeds in engaging the composer’s imagination and allows him to use as best he can the weapons in his own musical armamentarium: melody, harmony, rhythm, and tone color.

I like Telemann best when he sounds like Handel. Faint praise for sure, and probably unfair—he was talented, and he wrote an incredible amount of music. It’s never unpleasant, but for me, much of it makes me aware of his process in getting from one section to another. It’s possibly the best background music ever written: let it play softly and your cocktail party will be elevated to a soiree; and the music won’t interfere with the conversation.

And yet, of all musical resurrections brought about by the recording industry, his seems to be the most successful, with hundreds of CDs readily available. And there’s this: every so often, as Telemann scribbled away (he must have pulled a few all-nighters), the stars aligned in a manner that can only be described as astrological, and he would somehow contrive to produce something like his orchestral suite Hamburger Ebb und Fluth, now known as “Telemann’s Water Music.” If he had written only this music—or if he had written only the overture—he would have to be included among the immortals. If you don’t know it, stop over to YouTube and give it a spin. It is always with me; and if he’d been able to accomplish something like this divine sound more often, he’d have been Handel.

But this opera isn’t Handel. And it’s far from being first-class Telemann. He was thoroughly versed in how to construct an Italian opera—it’s all here, the ensembles, the finale, the two soprano roles that could feature anything a diva wanted to do. But in the entire opera, there was not one cut I wanted to go back to and listen again. The essayist hopes that this recording will lead to a rebirth in our time. I don’t think so. Despite the lovely performance of Bernard Labadie and the Berlin Akademie, I think the bell has tolled for this opera and the other 32 that he wrote. He was a friend of Handel and Bach, and the godfather of C. P. E. Bach—but he was a pygmy among giants.

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