Telemann: Das befreite Israel; Overture in F minor; Der Mai

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WORKS: Das befreite Israel; Overture in F minor; Der Mai
PERFORMER: Ingrid Schmithüsen (soprano), Claudia Schubert (alto), Howard Crook (tenor), Klaus Mertens, Ekkehard Abele (bass); Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
CATALOGUE NO: 999 673-2
These releases make a welcome departure from the hard core of pieces by Telemann which have been recorded many times over. Almost all the music appears on commercial disc for the first time and furthermore spans a wide period of his life, perhaps upwards of half a century. The five cantatas performed by the Saxon Vocal Ensemble are probably among the very earliest surviving works by Telemann, seeming to belong to his period at Leipzig University between 1701 and 1705. Some of the stylistic versatility and vigorous invention that characterise almost all his later music is present in these effective early compositions which are sensitively performed.


The remaining discs feature works of Telemann’s maturity. He held his position as director of music in Hamburg for 46 years, performing a newly composed liturgical Passion for the Lenten season in all but one of them. The 1758 St Matthew Passion belongs to the innovative last decade of his life and reveals his fluency in the early Classical style of the mid-century; the soprano aria ‘Genöss ich’ (Part 1) with its Scotch snaps and playful writing for two flutes affords an engaging example. But the recording itself is cavernous and the performance seldom rises above the workmanlike. A valuable addition to the catalogue, all the same.


In the following year Telemann directed the first performance of another substantial vocal work. Das befreite Israel (Israel Liberated) is a festive cantata with a text by Zachariae, one of the composer’s favourite librettists in later years. It is surprising that this splendid piece has had to wait so long for a recording, since a sound, printed edition has been available for 25 years and more. Hermann Max directs all with authority and there are strong contributions from Howard Crook and Klaus Mertens. Also making its debut on disc is Telemann’s setting of Ramler’s fine secular musical idyll Der Mai (May) which dates from about 1760. Though not quite on the level of his masterly dramatic cantata Ino, there is much to charm the senses in this diversely orchestrated piece. Nicholas Anderson