TELEMANN: Cantatas: No. 8, “Hemmet den Eifer”; No. 23, “Jauchzt, ihr Christen”; No. 51, “Umschlinget uns, ihr saften Friedensbande”; No. 62, “Die Kinder des Höchsten”; No. 68, “Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude” / Barbara Schlick, sop; Manfred Harras, rec; Ernst-Martin Eras, ob; Richard Gwilt, vln; Brian Franklin, viol; Sally Fortino, hpd / Cantate C 58003
What do record companies do when they’re not making new CDs due to the Coronavirus? Why, recycle old ones, of course. As in the case of Archipel recycling Fritz Wunderlich’s 1957 performance of Beethoven’s Christus am Ölberge, Cantate has chosen to reissue this 1989 album of five cantatas by Telemann for soprano and assorted instruments.
For me, the problem with most of Telemann’s music is not that it isn’t well written, it’s that it sounds written to formula. There is little or nothing in his music that indicates to me that he had feelings or a soul when he wrote his music. It is unfailingly tonal, even moreso than that of J.S. Bach or Handel, and never goes more than skin deep. It’s very pretty music, to be sure, but as the saying goes, prettiness is as prettiness does.
German soprano Barbara Schlick, who studied with Henriette Klink-Schneider, was a specialist in Baroque music and Telemann was certainly in her fach. I own her excellent recording of the slightly more interesting Ino cantata with conductor Reinhard Goebel, thus I was interested in hearing how she handled these lesser works.
But perhaps I’m being a little hard on Telemann. After all, he wrote these works “for domestic use on Sundays and religious holidays throughout the year, comprising a singing voice accompanied either by a violin, an oboe, a traverse flute or recorder in addition to a basso continuo.” By “domestic use,” I would interpret that to mean that they were performed in the home rather than in church. I remember, as a college student attending my first live string quartet performance, wondering aloud if people were actually expected to play these pieces “back in the day” themselves or to hire professional musicians to do so, and being told that yes, there was a time when the majority of middle class (and higher) households actually owned a group of string instruments—not Strads or Guarnieris, but decent quality (probably bought from the Sears catalog)—and were competent enough to handle the less virtuosic pieces themselves. Listening to these cantate, I still feel that some of the music, particularly the vocal part, may have strained the limits of the household’s amateur soprano, but the accompaniments are for the most part fairly easy to play, so maybe Telemann was right to expect them to be performed at the home.
The cantata No. 51, “Umschlinget uns, ihr saften Friedensbande” is indeed more sober music than some of the other pieces, with a fairly interesting oboe accompaniment and bears a strong resemblance to some of the sacred cantata arias written by Bach. This, at least, is an interesting piece, and there a certain bit of Vivaldi-styled cheeriness about the opening violin solo in cantata No. 62, “Die Kinder des Höchsten.” Schlick also sings some really nice slow rhythmic figures in the closing movement of this cantata.
So there you go. If you’re a Telemann fan, you’re certain to enjoy this album. If you’re not, just go elsewhere.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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