Monday 27 May 2013

A very fine Telemann Lukas Passion from the Kolner Akademie directed by Michael Alexander Willens on CPO

Georg Philipp Telemann 1681-1767) had the misfortune to be a close contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) thus ensuring that he would always be overshadowed by the great man. Certainly his name is well known, but I wonder how many of the huge number of his compositions are known to most people.

Telemann wrote in just about every genre of music, over thirty operas, numerous cantatas, oratorios, orchestral suites, concertos and chamber music. In addition to this, Telemann also wrote a number of Passions.

By the time Telemann arrived in Hamburg in 1721 as Kantor of the Johanneum Lateinschule and musical director of the city's five largest churches, succeeding Joachim Gerstenbüttel (1647-1721), he had written a number of oratorios. Hamburg already had a tradition of passion oratorios that had grown from the tradition of having a musically set passion as part of the religious services during Lent. During the early years of the enlightenment, Hamburg was at the forefront of the secularisation of church music.  There had been an opera in Hamburg since 1678 with the texts of operas based heavily on religious subjects.

Telemann wrote a number of Passion Oratorios intended for use in religious services. However, another type of Passion developed in the form of the Oratorio Passion, strongly influenced by the opera and was a dramatized telling of particular moments of the Passion story. As Music Director of Hamburg, he had performed his Passion Oratorios in secular venues as public concerts with an admission fee; it only being later possible to perform them during religious services. However, Telemann’s Lukas Passion of 1728 was performed several times that year between the churches of Hamburg.

I have not come across many recordings of Telemann’s Lukas Passion so a new release from CPO is especially welcome. It is a live recording from the Magdeburger Telemann Festlage  on 17th March 2012 with the Kolner Akademie  directed by Michael Alexander Willens  and soloists Wolfgang Klose (tenor) , Marcus Ullmann (tenor) , Christian Hilz (baritone) , Raimonds Spogis (baritone), Thilo Dahlmann (  and Aisha Tummler (soprano)
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Using texts from the Gospel according to St Luke, as well as texts from the Old Testament, the St Luke Passion is divided into five sections or divisions. Each of these five divisions is made up of a Preparation, with suitable texts from the old testament, The Religious Application, with appropriate words by Matthaus Arnold Wilkens (1691–1745), and the Division, with texts from St Luke’s Gospel.

Vorbereitung zur ersten Abteilung: (Preparations for the First Division)

Der verkaufte Joseph (Who Sold Joseph) has a moderately paced Recitativo with the Kolner Akademie showing some fine playing. Raimonds Spogis has a fine, rich, characterful voice, ideal in this repertoire and brings a variety of feeling to the text. A lovely vibrant aria Allgegenwärt’ger ger Hort der Deinen follows with beautifully transparent, slightly French sounding orchestral writing, especially in the performance.

In Die gläubige Anwendung  (The Religious Application), again the Recitativo is never allowed to become bland, with tenor, Marcus Ullmann giving the music much feeling. In the beautifully written Aria Laß, Erlöser, deine Treue meiner Treue Zunder sein, Ullmann has a lovely tone though not showing the flexibility that he soon gains as the performance proceeds.

In the Recitativo that opens the Erste Abteilung (First Division) tenor, Wolfgang Klose, sings as the Evangelist, a demanding role in this work. He has a high tenor voice, most attractive in this dramatic Recitativo with Baritone, Christian Hilz, later joining in the role of Jesus, with his rich voice. Of the various Recitativos and Chorales there is an especially fine Recitativo where Jesus, the Evangelist and Peter (Marcus Ullmann) are simply accompanied by an organ with the Chorus of Disciples making interjections and the fine choir of the Kolner Akademie sing a brief Choral, Treib, Herr, von mir und verhüte.

Vorbereitung zur zweiten Abteilung: (Preparation for the Second Division)

With Der von Zedekia geschlagene Micha (Micah Struck by Zedekiah) there is an orchestral opening with some lovely instrumental sounds before a powerful Thilo Dahlmann enters as Zedekiah in this distinctive Recitativo, followed by Raimonds Spogis as Micah. The lovely instrumental sounds continue with another great Aria Israel und Juda zeuge from Raimonds Spogis.

Die gläubige Anwendung (The Religious Application) opens with a light textured Recitativo from Marcus Ullmann with, again, fine instrumental transparency. Sei stille, wallendes Gemüte, with tenor Marcus Ullmann, is another lovely aria, a little more Bachian in its opening with some lovely singing, flexible and refined.

Zweite Abteilung (Second Division). After an opening text sung by the Evangelist, Wolfgang Klose, the singing alternates with Peter (Marcus Ullmann), A Maid (Aisha Tummler – sop) and A Soldier (Raimonds Spogis - bar) in a dialogue around Peter’s denial. After the Evangelist sings of the Cock crowing, the chorus of soldiers sings ‘Prophesy, who is it that hit you?’ There is a Recitativo for Evangelist, Jesus and Chorus of Elders, Chief Priests and Scribes and with some effective choral writing in ‘Then you are the Son of God?’ and a final Recitativo for the Evangelist, Jesus and chorus of Elders, Chief Priests and Scribes, effectively done.

Vorbereitung zur dritten Abteilung: (Preparation for the Third Division)

In Der von seinem Sohne und Volke verfolgte David (David Pursued by his Son and People) David (Raimonds Spogis) sings a characterful Recitativo  Ah, woe, how many there are that hate me and a terrific Aria Yes, yes, in vain my enemies rage, lively, vibrant, wonderfully sung, full of feeling and agility. There is more attractive instrumental writing.

Die gläubige Anwendung  (The Religious Application) brings some attractive singing from tenor, Marcus Ullmann, full of feeling in the Recitativo followed by a fine Arioso with a lovely orchestral contribution.

The Dritte Abteilung (Third Division) brings the Evangelist in a lovely bouncing, lively Recitativo on the words …took him before Pilate followed by a chorus of the Jews. In the Recitativo the Evangelist is joined by Pilate, a strong and firm Thilo Dahlmann with a chorus of Chief Priests and Jesus in an inspired little piece. There is a fast and furious chorale, a Chorus of the People singing Away with this one…. Further Recitativo is followed by a most unusual chorus Crucify Him with repeated phrases. A Chorale ends this division, a mournful, beautiful setting of Oh, you wondrous counsel.

The second disc of this set opens with the Vorbereitung zur vieren Abteilung: (Preparation for the Fourth Division)

Der sterbende Simson (The Dying Samson) has a joyful instrumental opening before the Chorus of Philistines enter with Rejoice and shout for joy… Raimonds Spogis as Samson enters in a measured You, God of grace, turn!  There is a joyful Chorus of Philistines before Samson returns with a measured You, God of revenge, take revenge for me. In the following Recitativo. Raimonds Spogis shows that he has such a fine voice, full of character and strength.

Die gläubige Anwendung  (The Religious Application) Marcus Ullmann opens this part with the Recitativo before the triumphant Aria Triumph, triumph, the edifice of the enemies crashes down.

The Recitativo of the Vierte Abteilung (Fourth Division) returns us to the passion with the Evangelist singing…they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene …and placed the cross on him… Here Wolfgang Klose is flexible and firm with some fine instrumental writing. There is a lovely slow Arioso from Jesus and the Evangelist, with Christian Hilz providing a fine You daughters of Jerusalem and a superb Recitativo Father! Forgive them, for they know not what they do. There is a particularly fine Recitativo with the Evangelist, Jesus and Evildoers in a dialogue that combines Wolfgang Klose, Christian Hilz, Raimonds Spogis and Thilo Dahlmann in this sensitive setting. The short but affecting Arioso has a beautifully controlled contribution from Wolfgang Klose. A sombre Chorale beautifully sung and Recitativo from the Evangelist and Centurion close this division.

Vorbereitung zur fünften Abteilung: (Preparation for the Fifth Division)

Der versenkte Jonas (The Sunken Jonah) brings a vibrant instrumental opening before Marcus Ullmann enters as Jonah in this almost Vivaldian Recitativo. The Recitativo of Die gläubige Anwendung  (The Religious Application) brings baritone Raimonds Spogis in rich, fine sounds, full of power as he is also in the Aria Thus the tempest is opposed.

The Funfte Abteilung (Fifth Division) commences with a Recitativo from the Evangelist before another lovely Choral God thus takes care… After a further Recitativo from the Evangelist we arrive at the Concluding Aria So rest, crucified love, from all persecution and pain, something of a highlight with lovely instrumentation and blending of voices in this mellow aria. A relatively brief but fine chorale At last he has been delivered ends this fine Passion.

This is an extremely attractive work with many wonderful moments. The excellent recording is live, though you wouldn’t know it. No applause is included. There are excellent notes and full texts and translations.

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