Ambitious Oratorios from Georg Philipp Telemann

This release presents two of Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Johannis” oratorios. For the church year 1730-31, Telemann set himself an ambitious task. For every church service, he would compose a full oratorio (rather than a short cantata). Few composers other than Telemann could have pulled it off. And an even smaller group could have done so at the quality Telemann maintained.

The first oratorio recorded here is Gelobet sei der Herr. It relates the birth of John the Baptist, and of the role he would play in preparing the way for Christ.

The second was sung during the Third Sunday of Easter. Bequemliches Leben, gemächlicher Stand is a contemplation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and what that role means.

These are indeed, big works. Soloists include not only the principal characters of the stories. Old Testament prophets comment on the action and provide historical background. Allegorical figures personify concepts such as love and faith.

The 20 musicians Telemann had at his disposal are given plenty to do, as is the chorus. And yet these oratorios have a lighter feel to them than J.S. Bach’s. The choral and instrumental textures have greater transparency. And the relatively straightforward solo lines have a natural clarity to them.

Michael Alexander Willens and the Kölner Akademie are among the premier practitioners of high German Baroque choral music. Their performances here are fluid and supple. Willens guides the singers (and our ears) through the subtleties of the text. His direction makes a strong connection between the emotional content of Albrecht Jacob Zell’s words and the music.

Will they do all 50+ oratorios? That’s a tall order. But I’m glad these two were recorded. Both are works that are worth revisiting time and again.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Johannis Oratorium
Rahel Maas, Harsányi, soprano; Elvira Bill, alto; Mirko Ludwig, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass baritone; Mauro Borgioni, bass; André Morsch, baritone
Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, director

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