Telemann: Lukas Passion, 1748 / Max, Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert

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TELEMANN Lukas Passion Hermann Max, cond; Veronika Winter (sop); Anne Bierwirth (alt); Julian Podger (ten); Clemens Heidrich, Matthias Vieweg (bs); Rhenish Kantorei; Das Kleine Konzert CPO 777 601-2 (2 CDs: 91:32 Text and Translation) Live: Magdeburg 3/13/2010

The incredibly prolific Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) is known to have composed no fewer than 46 oratorio passions, of which 22 are still extant. Among those, the St. Luke Passion presented here dates from 1748 and is the 27th in order of date of composition, matching the 27 years that the composer had served to that point as music director of the city’s five principal Lutheran churches. Since most of the lost (or at least undiscovered) passions are from the earlier years, this is by default one of the earliest known examples of his art in this genre, despite being more than halfway through the total and composed at age 67. Although by that time Telemann had long incorporated various foreign influences, particularly the French galant , into his “mixed” compositional style, here at least he adheres somewhat more to a traditional Germanic musical vocabulary, even if the melodic and rhythmic contours (particularly the use of skipping dotted eighth figures) are more closely akin to Handel than to Bach. The overall musical structure, however, is closer to that of a Bach passion, though there are significant differences. For Telemann the chorus plays a considerably smaller role, with the chorales being fewer and more modest in scope. Instead, the soloists assume a greater share of the commentary beyond their arias in sections titled accompagnato ; these are extended dramatic declamatory passages with intermittent instrumental accompaniment, penned in irregularly rhymed and metered verse, more melodic than straightforward recitative passages but lacking the formal symmetry and development of regular arias.

The addition of any Telemann oratorio to the relatively few so far recorded is an occasion for rejoicing, and all the more so when it involves the redoubtable Hermann Max and his veteran vocal and choral ensembles, the Rhenish Kantorei and Kleine Konzert. Recorded here in concert at the annual Magdeburg Telemann Festival, he and they deliver performances according to their customary superlative degree of excellence, leaving nothing to be desired on their part. I am somewhat less enthusiastic about the soloists, who are solid but not distinguished. Both Clemens Heidrich as Jesus and Matthias Vieweg as soloist for the bass arias have rather light and somewhat dry baritonal voices; the tenor of Julian Podger is a bit grainy; alto Anne Bierwirth simply does not have a distinctive profile; and even the usually first-rate Veronika Winter is not quite at her best. None are bad or even unsatisfactory, but they are definitely a step down from the stellar solo quartet Max assembled almost 20 years prior for the set of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach cantatas reviewed by me elsewhere in this issue. The recorded acoustic has a rich and slightly reverberant ambience, and not a whisper of noise from the audience is to be heard. Booklet notes are provided in German, English, and French, and the libretto in German and English; unfortunately the librettist is not identified, let alone discussed. One also wishes that either the short timing for a full-priced two-CD set had been fleshed out with another of Telemann’s sacred choral works, or else that the cost had been discounted. Despite this complaint, and the minor caveats about the soloists, this release is unhesitatingly recommended to all fellow lovers of Baroque sacred music.

FANFARE: James A. Altena

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777601-2

  • UPC: 761203760121

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Georg Philipp Telemann

  • Conductor: Hermann Max

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Das Kleine Konzert, Rheinische Kantorei

  • Performer: Veronika Winter