Sunday, March 27, 2011

Georg Philipp Telemann - Damon - Michael Schneider, La Stagione Frankfurt

 


 

 

 

 

Review:

This recording received a 1998 "Critic's Choice" award from Gramophone magazine.

Telemann's comic opera Den neumodische Liebhaber Damon was first performed at Leipzig in 1719, two years before he took up his position as Music Director at Hamburg. But in 1724 Hamburg's newly refurbished Gänsemarkt Opera House needed a new piece for its reopening; Telemann, who had taken over the running of the Gänsemarkt theater from Keiser in the previous year, revised his Leipzig opera for the occasion, its first Hamburg performance taking place on August 30th, 1724.
TelemannThe unidentified librettist - possibly Telemann himself - produced a pastoral idyll of charm and simplicity. Damon, the newfangled lover of the title, having been banished from Arcadia, has mustered a band of satyrs with whom he has invaded and conquered it. As victor, he feels entitled to make love to all the resident nymphs of Arcadia. But he has reckoned without the cunning of his old adversary, Tyrsis, who was responsible for his banishment in the first place. Tyrsis is presumed dead - his funeral pyre is still smoldering as the First Act opens - but he has, in fact, disguised himself as a nymph and it's Damon's misfortune to fall in love with the disguise. Mirtilla, Tyrsis's sister, has a narrower escape, and has to feign madness in order to keep Damon's ardor at arm's length. At last, Damon's downfall is again engineered and Arcadia once more rid of one whom Telemann, in his own synopsis termed a "tyrant and ill-mannered lover".
Michael Schneider and his ensemble, La Stagione, have previously recorded vocal rarities by Telemann and their performance of Der neumodische Liebhaber Damon is certainly the first to have appeared on disc. The text is lively in its dialogue and Telemann's music, at least for the most part, equally so. If the humour is more restrained than that in his much better known comic opera, Der geduldige Socrates (1721), the entertainment is, perhaps, more evenly distributed. Schneider keeps the pace moving briskly during the three acts and has assembled a cast which, by and large, is excellent. Instead of an overture in the French style, Telemann begins the opera with a three-movement Concerto with concertante violin. The instrumental playing here and throughout is clean and stylish. Michael Schopper's resonant bass, with its distinctive timbre, has not always convinced me in sacred baroque repertoire, but it is well suited to the title-role and he brings out the robust, bullying arrogance of Damon's character. His "Ech entflamme mit den Blicken" (Act I) is blustery and pugnacious, and his A major "Ich gluhe vor Sehnsucht" (Act 2) full of ardour and impatience. Tyrsis is sung by Mechthild Georg, a mezzo soprano whose Bach singing I have previously found attractive. Her clear, boyish and evenly projected voice is well suited to the role which she further enlivens with her idiomatic feeling for the text. Her "Entweiche, entweiche Verrater" (Act I) is admirably demonstrative and the F major "Du liebest mich mit halbem Herzen" (Act 3) vividly inflected. The two recorders which Telemann introduces to this aria are, alas, hardly recognizable through the string texture. Much of the most alluring music in the piece is given to Mirtilla, and this role is sung very well indeed by Ann Monoyios. She brings warmth of character, clarity of line and gracefulness of inflexion to the part. Mirtilla is a nymph with a wide range of moods; she can be angry and scornful, as in "Du frecher Verräter", pugnacious, as in "Zur Rache, zur Rache" (both from Act 2), full of yearning, as in her beguiling 6/8 aria in A major, "Kehre wieder, mein Vergnugen!" (Act I), or wistfully longing as in her "Ach, neigt euch, ihr Sterne" (Act 3). Monoyios projects each of them with effortless technical resource, enthusiastically embracing the subtleties of this multi-faceted character. Of the remaining roles, that of Elpina is less comfortably sung by Camille van Lunen. She sounds pinched in her top register and is technically less agile than either Monoyios or Georg. Gotthold Schwarz's Laurindo is excellent. Telemann wrote affecting arias for this shepherd, among which "Brich nicht mein Herz" - this would hardly seem out of place in a Bach Passion - and "Ich suche mein geliebtes Leben", both from Act 3, stand out for their trenchant expression. Of the ensemble pieces, a duet in C minor (Act 3) for Mirtilla and Laurindo is striking for its naturally written declamation, and a quartet, also in C minor (Act 3), for its effective part-writing.
Telemann provided a richly varied and plentiful supply of purely instrumental pieces for the opera - it is in these that his eclecticism is most readily apparent - though two of them, a Passacaglia (Act 1) and a Loure (Act 2) have been omitted from this recording. More regrettable and quite needless, however, is the excision of two arias, for Elpina and Mirtilla, respectively, from Act 2. Otherwise, notwithstanding small cuts in recitative and occasional transpositions of pieces within the opera, the work is given complete. The edition by the late Bernd Baselt has been used and has been fulsomely and appropriately acknowledged in the carefully prepared booklet.
If not a revelation, the performance provides us with yet another musical delight from Telemann's pen. As I have said, there are many inventive and expressively rewarding items in this score, vocal and instrumental. Readers could hardly fail to be captivated by the energetic, colourful "Niais" (Act 2), the Chaconne (Act 3), Damon's "An vielen Schonen" (Act 3) with its concertante bassoons, or the final chorus, whose repeated upward interval of a fifth provides an exuberant whoop of triumph. An affectionate performance, convincingly realized.- -NA, Gramophone

 

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