Telemann Don Quichotte
Telemann's delightful serenata, Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho (''Don Quixote at Camacho's Wedding''), dates from the end of his life. He wrote it in 1761, at the age of 80, choosing for a libretto a text by a young Hamburg poet, Daniel Schiebeler. Schiebeler was only 20 years old at the time but Telemann, forward-looking as ever, was evidently attracted by a text, or ''song-poem'' as Schiebeler himself called it, whose type was to become very popular, in which the daydreams and fantasies of incredible fiction were treated dramatically.
Other than in its choice of subject, Telemann's serenata has nothing to do with his very much better known depictive orchestral suite Don Quichotte, probably written well before the vocal work. However, since the serenata has no introductory overture or sinfonia, the suite does offer itself as a pleasing companion piece, complementary in spirit and in subject matter and it would have been good to have had it here. Never mind, the serenata itself (in five scenes) is given complete.
Schiebeler took an episode from Part 2 of Cervantes's celebrated burlesque novel, in which the Knight of the Lions and his squire Sancho Panza encounter some rather strange wedding celebrations as they roam the world in search of adventure. The bride, Quiteria is to marry Camacho, a rich sheep farmer. But she loves Basilio who is, however, poor and therefore disqualified from marrying his childhood sweetheart. Just as the marriage is about to take place Basilio is led in with a dagger in his breast. He implores Quiteria to grant him one last wish—to give a dying man her hand in marriage, since that would strengthen his heart and give him breath for confession. Quiteria agrees to this, gives Basilio her hand and the priest blesses them, whereupon Basilio leaps to his feet pulling the dagger deftly from his breast. It was all a trick, he exclaims, jubilantly. Camacho is furious and demands instant justice but Don Quixote intervenes: ''Quiteria was Basilio's, and Basilio Quiteria's, by Heaven's just and favourable decree''. Drinking, dancing and merrymaking follow as Quixote and a reluctant Sancho leave the feast for the open road once more.
The story afforded Telemann numerous opportunities for little humorous touches and the score, if not a masterpiece, is never dull or long-winded, drawing on widely flung stylistic terms of reference ranging from opera seria to folk-song (tracks 9 and 17). Most sharply and wittily characterized is the role of Sancho, a character in whom Telemann, like us, clearly delighted. Athletic leaps accompany his recollection of an earlier unpleasant escapade when playful rogues tossed him in a blanket. Michael Schopper revels in the part, giving a larger-than-life picture of this lovable squire. Quixote is another bass role, here sung by Raimund Nolte. His, too, is a splendidly robust performance, as we can hear, for instance, in his vigorous chiding of the timorous tendencies in Sancho's nature (tracks 5 and 6). The remaining roles are smaller, but uniformly well sung and the choruses, often adorned with rhythmic and instrumental ideas which evoke splashes of local colour, are first-rate. The distant popping of a cork from a wine bottle, at the end of track 18, though contextually apposite is not, however, in Telemann's score.
In summary, here is a work which should have a wide appeal for its musical diversity, skilful characterization and captivating melodies. In works such as this, the tension between established and newly emerging ideas, musical and dramatic, is to the fore, underlining both Telemann's almost ceaseless interest in experimentation, and a seemingly ever-youthful curiosity which belies his advanced years. The recording is of a live performance given early last year in Bremen on Telemann's birthday. The sound is excellent and the booklet contains full German texts with translations; the enthusiastic and informative introductory note is by the late Bernd Baselt, whose edition of the work was presumably used for the performance. I have sometimes in the past found Michael Schneider's direction static and lacklustre. Not so here, where soloists, choir and Schneider's instrumental group, La Stagione, turn in an effectively paced and warm-blooded performance with a keen sense of the humour inherent in both text and music. An enterprising release from a small company that have recently been exploring some fascinating by-ways of German seventeenth- and eighteenth-century repertory.'