Telemann: Festive Cantatas (TWV 1:284, 1:413, 1:243). Cond. Ulrich Stötzel. Hänssler Classic 98.047 (2015) and reissue

Telemann: Festive Cantatas (TWV 1:284, 1:413, 1:243). Miriam Feuersinger, Franz Vitzthum, Klaus Mertens, Collegium vocale Siegen, Hannoversche Hofkapelle, Cond. Ulrich Stötzel “world premiere recordings”. Hänssler Classic 98.047 (2015) barcode 4010276027539

 

 

 

Compiled in Hänssler Classic 8 CD PH17015 (2017) 881488170146:

 

Recorded May 26-28, 2014 in Martinkirche, Siegen

Law of diminishing returns?
11 May 2024

Am I, with Telemann’s Cantatas, reaching the curb of diminishing returns? I’ve waxed enthusiastic about two earlier installments (from 1997 and 2000 – links will open new tabs) in this series published from 1995 to 2015 by Hänssler Classic (and this one is the conclusion of the cycle) of world-premiere recordings conducted by Ulrich Stötzel with his forces from Siegen and Hannover, in collaboration with the Telemann-Center of Magdeburg (where the scores are published).

Of Telemann, I’ve written that I felt he had been unjustly overshadowed by the great popularity of“Holy Trinity” of Baroque composers, Bach-Handel-Vivaldi, which, really, should include him in a “Quadrinity” (Google tells me this is the appropriate word) – but that he may also have done self-inflicted disservice by his sheer abundance. Bach had the good sense to compose only 300 cantatas – of which some 200 are extant today. But Bach was a slouch compared to Telemann, with over 1700 reported cantatas – and that’s NOT counting the oratorios and other vocal works. With such profusion, how do you separate wheat from chaff – and where do you even start exploring? And how does a composer ensure diversity, imagination, invention, within the unity of a given style, over the course of 1,700 compositions in a given genre? I’m not sure Bach maintained the same level of genius in all of his cantatas – so what with Telemann’s 1,700?

In truth, the three cantatas gathered on this disc are excellent, and would do proud many composers of the era – in fact, parts of them would do Bach proud.

These are, as two of those published in 1997 on Hänssler 98.179, “Festive” Cantatas, i.e. triumphant, celebratory – and with trumpets and timpani, dating from 1748-9. TWV 1:413 is for baritone and 243 for alto, while 284 joins soprano, alto and baritone. They feature glowing and dynamic choral introductions (tracks 1 and 11) and conclusions (track 15), extended baritone arias in martial style, as in track 2 in which Satan is scorned, and Satan seems to inspire Telemann, witness the other great – and extended again – “military” aria for baritone on track 7, “Tremble, Satan”. But trumpets aren’t always put to use for martial heroism, and track 9 (another bass aria) or 10 (chorale) show that they can also be employed for lyrical underpinning as well.

Not that those cantatas are entirely of one – triumphant and martial – mood. Track 4 features a playful soprano aria, track 14 a playful alto aria, and track 12 a meditative aria for alto, on the words “wer bin ich?” (who am I).

What makes them perhaps not entirely equal to those on 98.179 is that they are shorter – not in timing, because some of the arias run over 7 minutes (and in some cases, as track 9, tend to overstay their welcome), but in construction, with only two arias each between the opening and concluding chorus. Opening chorus of 1:413 is in the form of a Chorale – not as uplifting as the more triumphant introductory choruses of 284 and 243.

And what they do lack perhaps, despite their many beauties, is the unmistakable individuality (rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, and in orchestral color) that makes you recognize a work of Bach, Handel or Vivaldi, even heard “blind”, within a few seconds. Here, heard immediately after some of the other installments in the series, I get the impression that I’ve heard the same thing before – not necessarily better, but very much the same. That said, I may be unfair to Telemann: I’m not sure I’d get a different impression if I listene to ten Bach cantatas in succession…

As with the others in the series, I find Stötzel and his forces to be more than serviceable. Countertenor Franz Vitzthum’s voice doesn’t bloom as “the best in this kind”, but it doesn’t acidly scrape either. Baritone Klaus Mertens’ tone is a bit pinched in the highs in his first aria from 413 (track 7), but such small glitches are unimportant – particularly in view of the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, these three works have not been re-recorded since.

TT 58 minutes. The 2017 compilation may appear convenient but it comes with no liner notes (except an introductory blurb by conductor Stötzel), no texts, no production information, and sometimes faulty artist’s credits, even faulty or missing credits of the pieces recorded in Telemann’s catalog. So if you are interested in more than just the music (history, context, meaning), go for the original CD.

Comments are welcome