A Telemann Passion – and a lot of recitatives

Completing my reviews of the Cantatas, Oratorios and Passions from Hänssler Classic, recorded by conductor Ulrich Stötzel from 1994 to 2015, I end with the beginning, with the 1994 recording of Telemann’s 1746 Matthew Passion, on Hänssler Classic CD 98.960 – one among over 52 passions and passion-oratorios that he composed.

I’m not as enthusiastic as with the other works recorded by Stötzel. Certainly, the Passion offers eight arias that are as fine as any written by Telemann, but they are like the pearl that you can access only by wringing the shell open – more than half of the Passion is made of long recitatives sometimes giving way to short ariosos, and short choruses, sometimes in the form of simple chorales, and even when better integrated in the dramatic unfolding of the piece, lacking heft and power to really evoke the often violent action they are supposed to depict. The Passion sounds a little too much like some kind of “sprechgesang” theatre play for full musical enjoyment, I find, a kind of revival of Monteverdi’s “parlar cantando” concept of opera.

For the links to the reviews of the other installment in the series, see my review of the 2017 compilation.

More Telemann, from my past

A few months ago I purchased in a lot of CDs on eBay the 8-CD set from Hänssler Classic 8 CD PH17014, essentially compiling the previous recordings of unknown cantatas and a rarely-performed Passion made for the label between 1997 and 2015 by conductor Ulrich Stötzel.

I found the works beautiful, but the set is a rather cheap affair (and, sure, if you pay less you should expect less) with no liner notes or texts, and these cantatas are not just instrumental works, they are words and meaning conveyed by music, you (or at least, I) don’t listen just for sound, but for the unity of music and meaning. So, given my enthusiasm for the pieces I decided to buy some of the original CDs (most of them can be found pretty cheap on the marketplace), and have reviewed them as such (see my blog-posts from May for links, or search Telemann Hänssler, or see my Telemann introductory page).

…and I just posted a review of the set.

Chancing as I did on those superb works, sent me back to the CDs of Telemann’s vocal/choral music that I’ve had in my collection for decades, late 1990s / early 2000s – before Discophage.com or even Amazon.com -, and I intend to listen again and post reviews.

It starts with Hermann Max’s recording of Tageszeiten and Daran ist erschienen die Liebe Gottes on Capriccio 10 319, a CD published in 1991 and acquired in 1996 (remember? we still had hope for a better future in those years…). Good recordings never age.

More Telemann beauties

In my previous review of another installment in Hänssler Classic’s cycle of Telemann cantatas under the baton of Ulrich Stötzel (Hänssler 98.047 from 2015), I wondered if I had reached the curve of diminishing returns. Not that those “Festive Cantatas” (meaning, apparently, with trumpets and timpani) were less beautiful than the other Festive Cantatas that I had listened to and reviewed just before (Hänssler 98.179, from 1997) – but they were very similar, and whatever their beauties, they seemed to just make more use of the same compositional processes, colors and twists, rather than renew them.

I am happy to report, then, that no, I haven’t grown jaded, and the three cantatas featured on Hänssler 98.624 (2011) continue to offer great beauties, here enhanced by the use of concertante oboes and recorders. Viva Telemann!

 

 

Law of diminishing returns?

New review of one more installment in Hänssler Classic’s series of Telemann Cantatas under the baton of Ulrich Stötzel, the concluding one from 2015 (the series was initiated in 1995), originally on Hänssler 98.047. Again “festive” cantatas (e.g. with trumpets and timpani, and in mostly triumphant and martial moods and colors), with many beauties, if not the unmistakable sonic identity which makes you recognize a work of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi in a few seconds.

More beautiful cantatas by Telemann – a recording from a quarter-of-century ago

 

Listening further to Hänssler Classic’s 2017 Telemann compilation, mainly of recordings made between 1995 and 2015 by conductor Ulrich Stötzel and his forces from Hannover, many premiere recordings at the time (made with support from – and scores provided by – the Magsdeburg Telemann-Centre), and most still not re-recorded to this day. On CD 5 are three more magnificent cantatas, originally on Hänssler Classic 98.179 published in 1997, and I’ve just reviewed it. See my blog-post of yesterday for context.

 

Again, I’ve enjoyed those cantatas so much that I ordered the original CD, just for the history and context that I hope are provided in the booklet. The compilation comes with no liner notes nor lyrics.

Still around, though mostly silent

I enjoyed so much Telemann’s Cantata TWV 14:12 written to celebrate the conclusion of the Peace Treaty of Paris in 1763 putting an end to the Seven-Year-War, in the quarter-of-century-old recording under the baton of Ulrich Stötzel on Hänssler Classic (and still the only recording, 25 years later) that I felt compelled to write and publish a quick review.

I feel that the popularity and posthumous fame of the “Holy Trinity” of the Baroque era, Bach Handel Vivaldi, has done great disservice to Telemann. But Telemann’s own and singular prolificity is also to blame. With a composer whose catalog numbers some 3000 works – even taking in account that half are lost –, how can you even start to sort out the wheat from the chaff, the exceptional from the run-of-the-mill? And the suspicion will always hover over Telemann’s output that quantity forbids quality. Compared to Telemann’s reported 1043 sacred cantatas… and 46 settings of The Passion (!!!), Bach had the good sense to compose only 300 cantatas (of which circa 200 are extant today), five masses and five Passions (and only two have reached us extant), and Handel 42 operas and 29 oratorios. Even Vivaldi’s infamous “500 times the same Concerto” – an ignorant and unfair quip! – pale in comparison to Telemann’s 600 overture-suites and (only?) 50 concertos…

Not all the music of Telemann I listen to strikes me as exceptional – but it often does, and the Cantata is a good case in point.

 

And I’ve taken the opportunity to re-publish an old review from Amazon: Hamburgische Kapitänsmusik, 1755 by La Stagione Frankfurt, cond. Michael Schneider, 2 Cpo 999 211-2 (recorded 1993, published 1999). More great Telemann.

Three editions of Josef Krips’ Everest recording of Beethoven’s complete Symphonies (1960): a sonic comparison

Following the friendly prompting of reader John Bar under my discography of the audiophile reissues of the Everest catalog, I pulled out of my shelves and boxes the three editions I have in my collection of Josef Krips’ 1960 recording of the complete Beethoven Symphonies made for Everest, and made a comparative assessment of their sonics. No interpretive comment yet, although sampling various movements for sonics left me under the impression that Krips’ approach was very traditional and “kapellmeisterisch”. The verdict is: avoid Fat Boy, Everest is the best, but with a few provisos (the major one pertaining to the Finale of the 9th Symphony), Tin Can is a good backup option if you do not want to shell out the sums now demanded for the prized Everest set on the marketplace.

subterranean work on Discophage.com: American symphonists of the 20th Century

Friends, I’ve been subterraneously working on Discophage.com, importing old reviews from Amazon.com over here and writing new ones, and the effects of that work will show up in the coming weeks or months. As always, reimporting a review from Amazon.com isn’t just a matter of copy and paste. It implies much work to update, find and document all the issues and reissues (there is an encyclopaedic ambition to Discophage.com), find suitable front and back photos, change all the references and links to other discs mentioned in the review – and sometimes even, substantially change the review.

One of the tedious things in maintaining the website is that the index of composers reviewed leads to an introductory page for each composer mentioned, which in turn displays the links to the various CDs reviewed. The composer page isn’t just a page of links, and it isn’t either a biographical page about the composer. My introductory notes try to offer my appreciation of the composer and my relation to his music. Where it gets really tedious is when I review a compilation CD, featuring many composers, because then, if I haven’t listed these composers yet, I have to create the composer pages for each, and try and find something relevant to say about the composer – which is not always evident when it is a review written fifteen years ago and I haven’t listened to the composer’s music since! Plus, when I create those pages, I am tempted of course to complete the page by reimporting over here ALL the reviews I made of that composer – which, of course, are going to include CDs pairing other composers, for whom I will have to create a page, for which I will be tempted to import all the reviews, and round and round it goes.

And this is what happened with my review of The American Composers Series: American Orchestral Music by Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, William Schuman, Howard Hanson, Gunther Schuller, Edward MacDowell. VoxBox2 CDX 5092 (1993). So far, I’ve created the composer’s pages only for Thomson, Rorem and Schuman (I had already done Schuller’s), but Schuman’s led to a good number of transfers (and the need for new composer’s pages, as – urgent – one for Roy Harris) – and some substantial modifications of some of the old reviews from 15 years back, because in the meanwhile I acquired the scores to many of his symphonies, which facilitates careful comparative listening which I had eschewed back then.

So you can look at my William Schuman page with links to my reviews (some are still on Amazon.com, but import here, with expanded reviews, will happen in the coming weeks). Same with Roger Sessions (many reviews not yet transfered over here, but links to them on Amazon.com), Robert Starer, Ned Rorem, Virgil Thomson. I had busied myself a lot with the 20th-century American symphonists (also: Barber, Copland, Antheil, Piston, Mennin, Persichetti…) around 2006-8 – and then moved on to other things…

Going back to the American symphonists of the 20th century was only an aside and paranthesis to the subterranean work I’ve mentioned. More about this in the coming weeks.

WHAT.A.BARGAIN! Marcelle Meyer on Tahra TAH 579-580

So, I have many automated searches on eBay, arcane stuff I’m looking for, labels I’m interested in, and as a consequence I receive easily two dozens of daily notifications: the net has to remain large and its mesh tight, if you’re not going to miss anything – which means you’re going to pull out a lot of junk too that you need to sort out and dismiss. By guesstimate there is probably 1% find for 99% ditch – if not 0.1 to 99.99. Either the yields are totally irrelevant (I have a search on “full score” because full orchestral scores are very expensive when new and I’m always hoping to find bargains on eBay, and I get tons of offers for what I think are baseball scorecards or something…), or I have the CD already, or the price is way over what I’m willing to pay…

And, because it is tedious and repetitive, I do the sifting very quickly, so misses happen.

The other day, I was going back to the very backlog of my mailbox, to wastebin away the old notifications of now-expired bids. But, because I am somewhat obsessive and there’s always a scrap of info to glean for my ongoing discographies, I did take a look before ditching.

In the notification from August 16 for Tahra Records (I maintain a discography of the label, although I’m not currently actively in the process of adding more of their issues to my already satisfyingly sizeable collection of Tahra CDs), I saw an offer for a Longbox-set devoted to French pianist Marcelle Meyer, which had failed to catch my attention back then.

 

It is the 2 CD-set TAH 579-580, and it suddenly struck me that I wasn’t sure I had that one listed in my Tahra discography. Tahra, founded in 1992 by Myriam Scherchen, the daughter of conductor and maverick Hermann Scherchen, and her husband René Trémine, ceased its operations in 2014. They were specialized in releases of careful reissues and live broadcasts of great artists of the past, with a special bent on those of Austro-German descent – to limit myself to conductors, and other than, obviously, Scherchen: Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Abendroth, Jochum, Klemperer, Keilberth, Van Kempen, Schmidt-Isserstedt, Böhm, Schuricht, Weingartner, Rosbaud, Bruno Walter, Fritz Busch, Clemens Krauss, Erich Kleiber, and I’m surprised they didn’t include Beckenbauer! Not a whole lot of Karajan either…

In their 22 years they released in the vicinity of 900 CDs (with reissues and gaps in the label numbering, I haven’t tried to make an exact count), and while my discography is nearly complete, indeed I still have a few gaps: not because the missing ones are difficult to find, mind you, on the contrary: you just need to unfold the barcodes. So because that was easy to do, I left the chore aside.

Indeed I was missing the Marcelle Meyer set and a few adjacent ones, so I took the opportunity to fill the few gaps I had there. However, looking more carefully at the August offer listing (which fortunately had not yet been suppressed by eBay, and commendably included many photos of the set), I saw that the Marcelle Meyer longbox came with what appeared to be a lavish booklet, and the back-cover photo indicated that it was a “limited De Luxe editon” including a complete discography of Marcelle Meyer and a “rare and unpublished iconography”.

Oh. Wow. What started as a discographer’s faint interest suddenly turned into collector’s lust! But wait: current best price on Amazon.fr: 222 euros! on Amazon.co.uk? 208 pounds! Amazon.com? 89.99 $ – better, but still… Collector’s lust maybe, but I’m very stingy too, and am not ready to pay that price even for a lavish booklet and discography…

It’s when I returned again to the original August eBay listing that I found cause to rue not having noticed it in due time: look at start price!

9.90 euros.

Yeah, that’s right. Not 99.00 euros, 9.90. Aaaargh! I should have bid on that, I thought.

But wait! That’s when I noticed that no one else had bid either (what ARE people doing in the middle of August that’s more important to them than closely monitoring their eBay offers, I wonder?). You mean, this 90 USD or 200 euro gem was offered at a tenth of it’s normal price and at a truly steal-price, and it was left bare??

Well, better late than never. I took my chance, contacted the seller through eBay and asked if he still had the set and if so, if he’d put it back on sale. He promptly answered back that he did, and would – and not on bid, mind you, but on immediate purchase at fixed price. A little fright then happened, because when I searched for the set on eBay, I found an offer… at 90+ euros!

Hey, wait a sec’, pal! That I am (more than) willing to buy at 9.90 doesn’t mean I’m willing to buy at 90! But no, false alarm: it turns out that it was someone else’s offer. New search, and there she was, Marcelle Meyer and her lavish garments, offered to me alone and waiting for me to take her, for 9.90 euros + 6.80 shipment,  and I’ll stop right here this lewd metaphor that will make me anathema to Meetoo until the end of time.

I’ve received it today. Yes the booklet is lavish, and precious not only for its discography but also for its invaluable photos. It alone certainly makes this set worth, even in my own stingy appraisal, 50 euros or dollars, and frankly the 90+ demanded by some, given that the set was a limited edition and that Tahra is now gone, is in fact far from outlandish.

I can’t believe my luck. Now I know why I spend all these hours on eBay.