Telemann: St Matthew Passion

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COMPOSERS: Telemann
LABELS: Raumklang
WORKS: St Matthew Passion
PERFORMER: Ulrike Staude (soprano), Elisabeth Wilke (mezzo-soprano), Martin Wölfel (countertenor), Marcus Ullmann (tenor), Jörg Hempel, Egbert Junghanns (bass); Magdeburg Chamber Choir, Dresden Baroque Orchestra/Hans-Christoph Rademann
CATALOGUE NO: RK 2002
In his capacity as the city’s music director, Telemann provided Hamburg with an oratorio passion for each of the 46 years during which he held the post. Somewhat less than half of them have survived but, of these, almost half have now been recorded. Unlike the ‘passion oratorio’, of which Der Tag des Gerichts is Telemann’s most celebrated example, the ‘oratorio passion’ contained biblical text by means of which the story of Christ’s Passion is recounted. Thus, the 1750 St Matthew Passion – Telemann established a regularly alternating yearly pattern of the four Gospels – essentially conforms with the outward structure of Bach’s two Passions. On the face of it, the 1740s and early 1750s seem not to have been among Telemann’s most productive years. Yet, listening to the music of this piece, we can hear straightaway that he remained alert to newly emerging means of musical expression. The present St Matthew Passion is perhaps among the earliest works which maintain consistently those early Classical stylistic features which found their fruition in the fine dramatic cantata Ino (1765).

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This performance was recorded at the 2000 Telemann-Festtage at the composer’s birthplace, Magdeburg. Hans-Christoph Rademann has assembled a mainly strong team of vocalists none of whom I’d encountered previously. From among them Marcus Ullmann (Evangelist) is especially fine. The Magdeburg Chamber Choir is excellent and the Dresden Baroque Orchestra sensitively supportive. If there is a more stylish approach on CD than this to Telemann’s annual Passion music it has escaped me, for this production offers far and away the most engaging picture so far of an important part of his musical activity. Nicholas Anderson