Telemann: Sacred Music. Hänssler Classic 8 CD PH17014 (2017)

Telemann: Sacred Music. Hänssler Classic 8 CD PH17014 (2017) barcode 881488170146

Magnificent works – but the music is not just for the background: you need the texts!
29 May 2024

The 8-CD set mainly compiles the six recordings (one fills two CDs) of rare Telemann cantatas (nearly all Telemann’s cantatas are rare, rarely performed, rarely recorded) and his 1746 Matthew-Passion made for the label by conductor Ulrich Stötzel and his forces from Siegen (the chorus) and Hannover (the orchestra), between 1994 (the Passion) and 2015.

They were, by chronological order (note that label numbering seems relatively independent of publication chronology):

98.960 Matthew Passion 1746 (1994)  barcodes 4010276005759 / 040888896029 (= CDs 6 & 7)
98.179 Festive Cantatas TWV 1:1061, 1593, 320 (1997) 4010276008484 (= CD 5)
98.333 Gott man lobet dich in der Stille TWV 14:12 (2000) 4010276009801 (= CD 4)
98.489 Heilig heilig heilig ist Gott TWV 2:6 (2005) 040888848929 / 4010276017080 (= CD 3)
98.624 Cantatas TWV 1:873, 642, 165 (2011) 4010276023883 (= CD 2)
98.047 Festive Cantatas TWV 1:284, 413, 243 (2015) 4010276027539 (= CD 1)

 

I’ve reviewed them (links above will open new tab to the review): overall, enthusiastically. I’ve contended in my reviews that, on the basis of the works recorded by Stötzel and Hänssler, Telemann appeared equal in genius to the “Holy Trinity” of Baroque music: Bach, Handel and Vivaldi and, consequently, that he seems unjustly under-recognized. Many of these  were premiere recordings and, decades later, Stötzel / Hänssler’s often remains the only recording. Contrast that with the gadzillion recordings of Bach’s Cantatas and Passions, and even Handel’s operas and oratorios or Vivaldi’s sacred works. Part of the reason for this relative lack of recognition (and performances, and recordings) may be due to the sheer magnitude of the composer’s output: with more than 3,000 compositions, including more than 1,500 cantatas and 600 Overture-Suites and Concertos, where to you even beging exploring the output? And isn’t there the lingering suspicion that quantity precludes quality, and that someone who wrote 1,500 cantatas can’t have written anything different and interesting 1,500 times over?

The last CD comes from entirely different source and musical forces. Its cantatas (TWV 20:22, 1:1101 and 1150) and Ode (TWV 25:62) are excerpted from a CD originally published by the label Capriccio in 1991, “Kantaten & Oden”, 10 338 (barcode 4006408103387), and later licensed by Hänssler and published as Hänssler Profil PH11012 (2006) barcode 881488110128 (link will open new tab to Profil’s entry on Discogs.com).

Why the compilation omits two arias and a short Ode (or Lied) from the original CD, beats me. Because they do no fit the general header given to the compilation, “Sacred Music”? But if so, why leave in the other Ode, “Die Einsamkeit” TWV 25:62, and Cantata TWV 20:22, which is a secular cantata, “Tirsis am Scheidewege” or “Tirsis on the path of departure”?

I’m not as fond of Jacobs’ rendition as I am of Stötzel’s cycle. There are some lovely moments in the music, but you have to make up with Jacobs’ acid timbre that makes me regret that a “real”, female alto isn’t singing, and he tends to be fussy. I think the music world gained a lot when he quit his singing career and went on to conducting (no irony, he’s proven to be a great conductor of the baroque and classical repertoire, with great vigor and none of the fussiness of the singer).

Still, for the Stötzel cycle, the compilation may seem like a fine introduction to Telemann’s insufficiently recognized greatness – but be aware of a caveat: the set comes with hardly any explanatory liner notes for history and context of each cantata (just a general blurb on Telemann by conductor Stötzel), no texts of the lyrics, no indications of the original issues, and faulty or missing credits. Singers are entirely omitted in the credits of CD 3, and in CD 4 it is only soprano Konstanze Maxsein who suffers the fate of being omitted. What was originally the Collegium vocale des Bach-Chores Siegen is now refered to as only Collegium vocale Siegen (from the Ensemble’s website I understand that Collegium Vocale is used when they sing in smaller, chamber-sized formation. But it is indeed the Bach-Choir of Siegen). The TWV numbering is not provided for the works on CD 8.

But the glitch that puzzles me most is that Cantata TWV 2:6 “Heilig heilig heilig ist Gott” somehow becomes TWV 14:3c (TWV stands for “Telemann Werk Verzeichnis”). Sure, checking on the great Canadian website that gives the complete Telemann catalog (in French), TWV 14:3c is also a Cantata titled “Helig, heilig ist Gott, der Herr Zebaoth”, written for the 200th Anniversary of the Augsburg Confession (so that would be in 1730) at the Johanneum Academy in Hamburg (links will open new tabs to Wikipedia for the inquiring spirits wishing to learn more), where Telemann had been music director since 1721. But, despite the common opening words (one proferation of “Heilig” is missing though in 14:3), it doesn’t seem to be the same work as TWV 2:6, written for the consecration of the St. George Church in Hamburg (an event that occurred on October 26, 1747. Inquisitive mind here needs to undestand German, there is no version of the Wikipedia article in English). So what mysterious editorial process made someone at Hänssler substitute 14:3c for 2:6, I cannot even imagine, given that simply copying the info provided on the original CD seems so… simple and obvious.

Most detrimental though is the absence of texts. Like operas, cantatas aren’t just music. They are meaning conveyed and underpinned by music. The lyrics are not mere vocalises on vowels, they are praises to God, accounts of the Christ’s passion, even graphic depictions of the destructions wrought by the Seven-Year War in TWV 14:12. Not understanding what is sung makes the works into mere background music, I find.

Not that I want to chide Hänssler for the cheap compilation (thought they didn’t need to be so sloppy in their credits and production). After all, if you pay less you can and should expect to receive less. But I’ve found these works so engaging that, for most of them, I went ahead and bought the original CDs. You can find them for relatively cheap on the marketplace. I’ll give away the compilation to someone more ready than myself to play the discs as background music.

 

Comments are welcome