Telemann: Christmas Oratorios

Monika Mauch, Nicole Pieper, Georg Poplutz, Klaus Mertens SATB, Kölner Akademie directed by Michael Alexander Willens
cpo 555 254-2
TVWV 1:745, 926, 1251, 1431

It is both hugely rewarding and insightful when the spotlight turns on a little-known cantata cycle alongside progressive musicological studies. This fine recording does just that, with three delightful, seasonal examples from the librettist Albrecht Jacob Zell (1701-54), who gave his name to a cycle known as either “Zellischer” or “Oratorischer” Jahrgang from 1730/1. The latter definition is quite telling, as these resplendent works have seemingly imported qualities from the opera, and perhaps more appositely the Passion-oratorios of the time, with the clever use of allegorical figures to add pertinent commentaries to the festive drama unfolding before us. These are quite unconventional cantatas in form, and offer the composer a broad palette of musical expression; Telemann required no more prompting, responding to the hybrid stylistic elements with some ravishing and inspired “Tonal Painting”. The opening work with its dazzling chorale medley: Dictum-Aria-Recitative-Dictum-Recitative, wrapped around the familiar “Uns ist ein Kind geboren” is an excellent festive intro, and displays a compositional freedom, possibly promoted by the quasi-operatic, oratorial style. The aria, “Mein Herze wallet vor lechzendem Vergnügung” (My Heart swells with languishing delight, Track 8), sung by Andacht (Worship) is truly enchanting! The second “Oratorio” opens with a most perfect musical depiction of the shimmering glow of the “Sun of faith”. As an old conductor friend used to say, these are works filled with such “niceties” i. e. charming and clever (alert) responses to the textual content and drama; here with bright sheen and imagination. The final cantata (from a later Neumeister cycle of circa 1742-1744 (Musikalisches Lob Gottes (in der Gemeinde des Herrn), published in Nürnburg in 1744), is set with much more modest forces, only soprano, alto, bass with strings and continuo. It feels more adherent to the conventional formal layout than the first three works, and yet it finds its sequential seasonal placement, and typical expression of humble joy, found in similar pieces from this time of year. All in all, an inspired and inspiring exposition of three wonderful cantatas from one of the lesser-known of the 20-odd cycles Telemann managed to pen during his extraordinarily productive lifetime, ending with a modest work from the later cycle. These are most welcome seasonal delights with a definite musical sparkle, to which all the soloists and instrumentalists respond with notable skill!

David Bellinger

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