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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Rameau: Anacreon, Le Berger Fidele; Telemann: Mutzenbecher Golden Anniversary Oratorio and Serenata; Ino, Dramatic Cantata

01/26/2014 1:00 pm
01/26/2014 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This Sunday I present three out-of-the-way examples of the lyric theater music of two masters of the late baroque style. It's been a long time since I've introduced my radio audience to any new recordings of French baroque opera. The Dutch label Brilliant Classics has reissued a 1996 Deutsche Grammophon CD of Jean Philippe Rameau's one-act opera-ballet Anacreon (1757).

The subject of the one-acter was quite popular in 18th century France. It dealt with the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, who sang the praises of love and wine. Rameau liked the subject so well he wrote two versions of his Anacreon opera to the refined banter of the poet Bernard's libretto. French audiences expected ballet sequences in such stageworks, so Rameau's operatic scores always include sprightly dances.

Rameau's revised 1757 Anacreon gets its best possible historically-informed interpretation from baroque specialist Marc Minkowski and his period instrument ensemble Les Musiciens du Louvre. Period orchestra and chorus were recorded live in performance with four vocal soloists, one of whom is soprano Veronique Gens. The single Brilliant Classics compact disc reissue is filled out with Rameau's pastoral cantata Le Berger Fidele (1728), from the start of his career in writing for the lyric stage. The organist and music theorist began composing opera at the advanced age of fifty and kept at it right up to his death at age eighty one in 1764. Veronique Gens is heard again in the "Faithful Shepherd" cantata with the same orchestral forces.

Rameau's German contemporary Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) is one of the all-time most prolific of composers. Over the years I have broadcast recordings of his operas and oratorios. From 1721 onwards Telemann resided in Hamburg, where he wrote cantatas and Passions for the city's most important churches, operas for the "Goose Market" opera house and works for various civic functions. He also picked up commissions from private individuals, often to provide wedding cantatas.

In 1732 a prominent merchant and city official, Matthias Mutzenbecher, engaged Telemann to write music for his golden anniversary celebration. This Telemann delivered in two lengthy parts: first, a mini-oratorio for a special church service of blessing upon the Mutzenbecher patriarch and matriarch and their numerous offspring. Following that was a secular serenata allegorically displaying the virtues that make for a long and happy marriage, this second part to be performed at the Mutzenbecher family banquet.

All this celebratory singing and playing has been recorded, presumably for the first time,in broadcast under the auspices of West German Radio/Cologne. WDR Koln was on hand to facilitate the concert aired live from the 2012 Knechtsteden Festival of Early Music. Hermann Max directed the period instrumentalists of Das Kleine Konzert, with six vocal soloists. In 2013 the German label CPO issued the Mutzenbecher oratorio and serenata on two compact discs.

Unlike his colleague J. S. Bach in Leipzig, Telemann was a musical progressive and internationalist in style. He long outlived Bach. Into his eighties Telemann remained on top of the latest trends, ie. the early classical or "gallant" style. A new, heated concert hall opened in Hamburg in January, 1761. For this venue old Telemann wrote his last lyric works. One of the master's very last compositions is his dramatic cantata, Ino, dating certainly from 1765 or possibly later. His operatic treatment sounds remarkably like Gluck! After Telemann's passing, his successor in Hamburg, old Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel saw to it that Ino was performed publicly in 1768.

This cantata was broadcast in 1989 over Radio Germany of Cologne from the Sendesaal, the same auditorium from which Haydn's "Creation" went over the air in 2003. Soprano Barbara Schlick portrays Ino, the mortal who, according to Ovid's Metamorphoses, was transformed into a sea goddess. Reinhard Goebel directs the period instrument players of Musica Antiqua Koln. The concert recording of Ino was originally issued on compact disc through Deutsche Grammophon in 1990. It's again available in CD format courtesy of the Brilliant Classics label.