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International Record Review - (02/2013)
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Appréciation d'ensemble/ Evaluation : "Well worth owning".
Reviewer:  Andrew O’Connor

This new release is a recording of a concert held on March l8th, 2006 as part of the eighteenth Telemann Festival Days in Magdeburg, which is the leading forum for world-class performances of his major works. There is no doubt that the three cantatas performed on that day fit that description. They are all fairly lengthy, scored for strings and winds and feature virtuosic arias, choruses and chorales. In other words, they are much closer in construction to Bach’s cantatas than to Telemann’s better-known small-scale Harmonische Gottes-Dienst cantatas. Stylistically, too, all three works contain movements that could easily be mistaken for Bach. One could easily imagine the splendid soprano duet (one voice in echo) from Weine, nicht, siehe, with its rippling strings and trumpet fanfares, appearing in the Christmas Oratorio and indeed becoming an audience favourite. Other movements, such as the only intermittently contrapuntal opening chorus to Sie verachten das Gesetz das Herrn Zebaoth, sound distinctly unlike Bach and are at times more reminiscent of music by one of his sons (only better) . Mind you, that rather modern-sounding chorus is immediately followed by an impeccably old-fashioned chorale movement.

The writing for solo voices is far more demanding than the rather gentle melodies of the Harmonische Gottes-Dienst series, which were partly intended for domestic performances. Clearly the churches and chapels where these three cantatas were performed possessed solo singers undaunted by the operatic levels of coloratura demanded in some arias, notably the swaggering tenor and bass solos in Wiene Nicht! and the vivid tenor aria that opens Gott Zebaoth, in deinem Namen. As befits a festival devoted to Telemann performance and scholarship, the booklet contains three separate essays written by different experts devoted to each cantata. These set out the scriptural and poetic sources of the texts and explain how skilfully Telemann’s music illustrates their theological and emotional import.

As this is a live recording, one should expect a modicum of audience noise. Here it is no more than a very occasional cough, while the recorded sound Magdeburg’s Johanniskirche is scarcely less clear than a studio recording. (In fact, Google tells me that this Lutheran landmark is no longer used as a church but has been adapted as an arts performance venue.) What does give this away as a live recording is the slightly less than perfect ensemble in the string playing and choral singing, which are quite unexpected in two such fine ensembles as the Rheinische Kantorei and Das Kleine Konzert. For example, the final chorus in Sie verachten das Gesetz das Herren Zebaoth has some surprisingly scrappy singing and playing. Soprano soloist Veronika Winter is a long-time favourite of conductor Hermann Max and there are many worse singers performing Baroque music today. However, her voice is not especially beautiful and has a rather constricted quality not found in better Baroque sopranos such as Dorothee Mields, Monica Mauch and Ulrike Hofbauer. The contralto Lena Susanne Morin has some lovely music to sing but her tone is too thick and inflexible for this repertory. (This is odd because she is a peerless singer of Renaissance and Medieval music.) The two male solo singers, tenor Jan Kobow and bass Ekkehard Abele, are both very impressive in what is some very demanding music. A few smudged runs in their coloratura passages are quite forgivable in a live performance.

The real star of the show, however, is obviously Telemann himself. The CPO label has served Magdeburg’s greatest son very well over the years and this belated release of three exceptionally fine grand cantatas should raise his reputation even higher. Well worth owning.
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