Telemann Christmas Cantatas
If you're looking for an alternative to the expected Christmas playlist, this might well be what you're looking for
One of the most prolific composers of all time, Georg Philip Telemann's vast output is awe-inspiring. Hardly surprsing that he wrote music for Chirstmas: here are two cantatas for Advent Sunday plus another two for the Second Day of Christmas (or Boxing Day, as its otherwise known; or even St Stephen's Day).
Let's start by a little segue from Bach's Christmas Oratorio (which I covered for this Christmas period here) towards Telemann. There's a video on that post of how Bach sets the opening chorus, "Jauchzet frohlocket," unforgettably in a blaze of trumpets. Here's what Telemann did (from a Czech Radio performance by Musica Salutaris):
The third volume of Telemann Chirstmas Cantatas from cpo we're looking at today offers four little gems. As so often with Telemann, everything is perfectly crafted. Telemann certainly wrote at speed: there are some 1700 cantatas between 1717 and 1765 for the Sundays of the church year. The four chosen here come from some 150 held at the Brussels Royal Concervatory of Music.
The Baroque flutes in the soprano aria "Die gekräuselsten Töne" (The swirling tones) in the Advent cantata Eilt zu, ruft laut, ilr längst verlangten Boten (Make haste, shout loudly, you long-awated messengers) are utter delight. The use of a small chorus works wonders in these modest but perfect works.
The meltingly beautiful Sinfonia to the third cantata we hear, Verirrter Sünder, kehrt, ach, kehret an (Errant sinners, turn back) is unforgettable. Soloists, too, may be familiar, perhaps particularly the bass Peter Kooij, best known for his work with Masaaki Suzuki in Bach (he sang in Suzuki's first BIS versions of the St Matthew and John Passions: here on Classical Explorer we have covered the most recent St. Matthew and St. John from Suzuki). His colleagues on this new cpo disc match his excellence; I find myself with a particular weakness for Mirko Ludwig's tenor, who kicks things off with the very first aria on the disc.
There is more variety here than one might think for a selection of four Telemann cantatas, not least because the texts of the St Stephen's Day cantatas speak of repentance. The final cantata here, Da aber die Zeit erfüllet war (But when the fullness of the time had come) is actually the one closest to the jubilant sounds of Bach's Christmas Oratorio cited above; plus, there is a sort of transcendent beauty to the soprano and alto duet in the first vocal section (the same title as the cantata itself). Trumpets and drums have much to occupy themselves with in this cantata, although thir use in the final Chorale "Trotz dem alten Drachen" (The ancient dragon is defied), the choir alternating with a pair of fanfaring trumpets, is both unexpected and effective.
If you're looking for an alternative to the expected Christmas playlist, this might well be what you're looking for.