Handel & Telemann Cantatas
Archiv Produktion and Teldec have done it again. Having twice previously achieved simultaneous releases of Telemann's instrumental anthology Musique de table this time it is the composer's dramatic cantata Ino. Only three earlier commercial recordings of this impressive product of Telemann's Indian summer have been issued. One of them, recorded in 1965 (Archiv), featured the soprano Gundula Janowitz, another, recorded two years later, a less well-known name Yvonne Ciannella (Turnabout). A third, with Adele Stolte, was never released in western Europe. All were long ago deleted and never reissued so a new recording, let alone two, is particularly welcome.
Telemann was 84 years old when, in 1765 he composed his Ino to a recently published poem by the Berlin poet of the German Enlightenment, Carl Wilhelm Ramler. The text was immediately popular and was also set by J. C. F. Bach and Kirnberger. But it was almost certainly Telemann's setting which an advertisement in 1768 described as ''the highly popular cantata on the poem Ino''. On that occasion the performance was directed by Telemann's godson and successor to the Hamburg post of Music Director, C. P. E. Bach.
Ramler's poem, drawn from one of Ovid's Metamorphoses concerns Ino, daughter of Cadmus and Hermione, and sister of Semele. Ino married Athamos who subsequently went mad, killed one of their sons and attempted to murder the other. Ino, clutching the child and with Athamos in hot pursuit hurls herself into the sea. The Nereids accept her as their sister; she becomes the goddess Leukothea and her son the god Palaemon. Telemann's cantata, consisting of three arias, a dance and accompanied recitative begins at the point where Ino has reached the sea cliffs near Corinth.
It is extraordinary that in the twilight years of a long and prodigiously productive career Telemann should have been able to create what perhaps we might justifiably regard as his vocal masterpiece; and in a style, furthermore, that reveals a thorough grasp of and affection for the early classical idiom of the time. There is not a weak moment in this score and all things considered it is perhaps a matter of no small regret that he did not live for a century. Many of his wide interests and varied talents, above all his love of poetry, his ability as an orchestrator, his artistic sensibility and his informed awareness of stylistic developments, unite in this spirited and affecting score.
The performances are markedly different from one another, Reinhard Goebel rhythmically precise, disciplined and attentive to detail, Nikolaus Harnoncourt more overtly dramatic, less meticulous over detail but in some respects a shade more exciting, even though in all but one or two instances his tempos are more leisurely than Goebel's. If one were to make a general distinction between the two it would be perhaps that Goebel more faithfully reflects baroque ideals than Harnoncourt, who embraces more wholeheartedly an early classical aesthetic.
I have enjoyed both of them, not only because these two musicians find more more to say about Telemann's music than almost any other at the moment, but also because the singing is first-rate in each. Roberta Alexander brings a greater sense of urgency to Ino's predicament and is more passionate in her declamation. Barbara Schlick is cooler on the surface yet we can sense considerable latent energy and hidden passion. Each complements the spirit of her director and it is this as much as anything which gives the performances a strong artistic integrity. Goebel gives us all repeats while Harnoncourt omits some of those in the engaging pair of Triton's dances situated midway in the piece.
If I have not by now made it clear that both versions are essential listening then the choice of coupling should settle the matter; each is an inspired one. Harnoncourt offers Handel's early dramatic masterpiece Apollo e Dafne, whose text, like Ino is based on one of Ovid's Metamorphoses, while Goebel stays with Telemann, giving a splendid performance of an orchestral suite dating from 1765—probably his last orchestral composition and, indeed, surely one of the last of its kind to have been written by any composer. In the Handel cantata Alexander is partnered by the bass Thomas Hampson, whose performance is too blustery for my taste and who by no means always finds the centre of his notes. Nevertheless, the ravishing ''Come rosa in su la spina'' comes over well. David Thomas makes a more stylish and accurate Apollo in the Harmonia Mundi recording under McGegan, yet overall this new performance is the more consistently fluent and secure of the two versions with many affecting insights. Only once have I heard a wholly convincing performance of this lovely work and that was with the Raglan Baroque Players under Nicholas Kraemer. A difficult choice. Who in their right mind would be without the Handel cantata? Yet, I incline towards Goebel's disc as being ultimately the more satisfying. Every detail is lovingly cherished and well understood. Both versions come with full texts but the Archiv contains the more interesting and informative of the essays. Recommended.'