Telemann: Cantata TWV 2:6 “Heilig, heilig, heilig ist Gott”. Collegium vocale Siegen, Hannoversche Hofkapelle, cond. Ulrich Stötzel. Hänssler Classic 98.489 (2005) and reissue

Telemann: Cantata TWV 2:6 “Heilig, heilig, heilig ist Gott”. Monika Mauch, Ralf Popken, Andreas Post, Albrecht Pöhl, Collegium vocale Siegen, Hannoversche Hofkapelle, Trompeten Consort Friedemann Immer, cond. Ulrich Stötzel. Hänssler Classic 98.489 (2005), barcodes / 4010276017080

 

 

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

 

Recorded 21-22 October 2004 in Martinikirche, Siegen

Another superb “occasional” cantata by Telemann
6 June 2024

The cantata TWV 2:6 opens with a striking and haunting gesture: roll of drum pianissimo ushering in the chorus, also pianissimo, on the word “heilig” (holy), repeat with chorus singing a minor third above, same word, still pianissimo, and then bursting out loud a fourth above, with glowing brass support on the words “ist Gott”, as a beam of Godly light suddenly shining in. And, having repeated “heilig” three times, the gesture is repeated again three times, so that’s nine times “heilig”.

Even if it were a purely “formal” affair, it would be striking and beautiful. But that three-times-three “heilig” gesture has a meaning: the cantata was written for the consecration of the Church of the Holy Trinity of St. Georg, a close suburb of Hamburg, on Thursday, October 26, 1747.

If only for that introduction (which, beyond what I’ve described, continues with a powerful and brilliant passage intertwining the four solo voices and the chorus), the cantata deserves a place in the pantheon of posterity – and it is no surprise that it had a life of its own even after Telemann’s death, way beyond the occasion.

The cantata (and others that I’ve heard written on such special occasions, as TWV 14:12  on Hänssler 98.333 – link will open a new tab) is essentially different from Telemann’s habitual “liturgical” cantatas, part of his weekly obligations in Hamburg. Not only is it very extended in duration – TT here is 78 minutes, and it would have been longer, had not, in two arias (tracks 3 and 8), the dacapos been omitted – but, with its alternation of choruses, recitatives, arias, choral “Dictums” (written on words from the Psalms) and outright chorales (six of them, including five in the cantata’s second part), it is also more complex in construction than the simple chorus-aria-recitative-aria and concluding chorus typical of the liturgical cantatas.

Many arias are enhanced by the use of obliggato solo instruments. Some are brilliant, festive and with trumpets (as on track 3 & 25, for bass), others are only supported by strings, with no loss of liveliness and excitement (tracks 6, with coloring by oboe d’amore, and 18, both for soprano, 12 for bass). Not that the moods traversed are uniform: there is more meditative interiority (with oboe coloring) in the tenor aria track 15, pastoral dreaminess and chalumeau (clarinet) in dialogue with solo violin in 21 (alto). Only the aria for alto in 3/4 rhythm (track 8), despite the fine coloring afforded by its accompanying horns, did I find somewhat plodding. Arias and recits, by the way, aren’t equally distributed: bass gets three arias, soprano and alto two and tenor only one, while the latter gets three recitatives, to alto and bass’ two and soprano’s single one.

There is also fine musical imagination in the Dictum-choruses, with track 10, opening the cantatas second part, triumphant and brassy (on the words “Fling wide the gates”). The one on track 4 is even more original, first interlacing the four solo voices, and continuing with an ominous choral fugue on the words “Man is like emptiness: this days pass away like a shadow”. Likewise, track 13 displays wonderful word painting on the part of Telemann, starting in lively and dance-like spirit in Siciliana rhythm on the words “Sing joyfully to God…”, interrupted by military trumpets and drums erupting on “Take the psalms and bring hither the drums”, only to be followed by by soprano and alto in sweet melodious strains on the words “sweet harps with the psaltery”, underpinned at one point by violin pizzicati. Sweet touch.

The only negative point I would raise is that word-setting in the recitatives isn’t as imaginative as in other cantatas tthat I’ve heard (as these 98.624), and those recits are wordy and long – and some very narrowly topical, letting you not forget that this is “occasional music”. Take track 7, for instance, which goes on thanking God for the strength and guidance to build the new church, or track 23, claiming that this House of God would last for the generations to come. Telemann couldn’t have known, but it was destroyed during World War II.

This was a premiere recording, and so far as I could establish, it remains, almost 20 years later, the only one. There is such unexplored abundance in Telemann’s output that it is hard to decide where to start digging. Another reason for the paucity of recordings may be unavailability of score and parts – the CD doesn’t mention explicitly who provided them for the performance and recording, and I’ve found no trace online. In the absence of any comparative version, Ulrich Stötzel’s traversal seems good enough – except for the choice of counter-tenor Ralh Popken to sing the alto parts, with his acid timbre often evoking a hag. But I found soprano Monika Mauch’s small but crystal-clear voice very refreshing.

Note that, in the 8-CD compilation issued by Hänssler in 2017, collecting mainly the series of Telemann cantata recordings made by Stötzel for the label from 1994 to 2015, the reference in Telemann’s catalog “TWV 2:6” has unexplicably morphed into “TWV 14:3c” – an entirely different cantata, written 17 years earlier, on a totally different occasion, and whose only claim to confusion is that it starts with the same words, “heilig, heilig ist Gott” (but repeated only twice). See my review of the compilation for more details on this. Soloists are also entirely omitted in the compilation’s credits. Other than those glitches, the compilation comes with no explanatory essays for history and context, and no texts – a major impediment to enjoyment which makes me privilege the original releases.

 

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