Georg Philipp Telemann
Christmas Oratorio; Christmas Cantatas 1761 & 1762
with Constanze Backes, soprano; Mechthild Georg, alto; Andreas Post, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass
Telemann-Kammerorchester & Kammerchor Michaelstein
Choir Director: Helko Siede
Ludger Rémy, conductor
Even though Georg Philipp Telemann’s Christmas Oratorio is not as famous as the one composed by Johann Sebastian Bach exactly twenty-five years before, those who will listen to it at least once, perhaps will agree with me that this is one of the nicest and most delightful pieces of sacred music for Christmas time ever written.
Telemann composed the Christmas Oratorio (the original title is Die Hirten bei der Krippe zu Bethlehem, or The Shepherds at the Crib in Bethlehem) in 1759 on a text written by poet Karl Wilhelm Ramler in 1757 and originally intended for another composer, Friedrich Agricola, who corresponded with Telemann and perhaps have sent the text to him. The story is not directly taken from the Holy Scriptures, but it echoes its language in the straightforward expression of joyous feelings and thoughts that the protagonists of the oratorio, the shepherds, exchange in the field.
What Telemann did with such a humble, rustic set is outstanding. His music «has its festive trumpet tones and old familiar Christmas chorale», as Wolf Hobohm points out in the booklet, and is so lively and merry that the listener cannot but feel the truest Christmas spirit, especially if it is performed by the accomplished artists that have recorded it, together with the Christmas Cantatas 1761 and 1762, for the CPO label in 1996.
Conductor Ludger Rémy, who revealed another treasure when he recorded Rolle’s Christmas Oratorio one year later, is extremely skilful to give prominence to the immediate feeling of joy with which Telemann had decorated Ramler’s verses. In the apparent naivety of this oratorio, Rémy is able to express the unadulterated sincerity with which humble people celebrate a happy event, a feeling that characterizes also the two charming Cantatas, which ideally complete the message of the oratorio. An idea of peace and reconciliation is something that is implied in Rémy’s conduction and that maybe helps to define the atmosphere of Telemann’s work without lingering on superfluous sentimentalism.
The excellent Telemann-Kammerorchester and the equally fine Kammerchor Michaelstein are a pleasure for the ears and their warm and accomplished performance contributes to give the right colours to the work. The soloists are equally fine, especially soprano Constanze Backes, who is the closest among the singers to echo the conductor’s will to characterize the Christmas Oratorio with candour and grace.
This recording of Telemann’s Christmas Oratorio is perfect for this merry festive of which it echoes so well the spirit, but it is actually a recording worth to be listened all year round for its intrinsic musical qualities.