Accent's Telemann: Bass Cantatas is Klaus Mertens' 13th disc of Telemann -- he has recorded oratorios, odes, and numerous cantatas already. Telemann was a baritone, and the high number of works for low voice among his 1,400-plus surviving cantatas indicates that he was composing with his own voice in mind. These four cantatas are performed from new editions prepared by Habsburger Verlag in Frankfurt from a batch of 30 manuscript cantatas held in the library of Brussels Conservatory; they have certainly never been recorded before, and it is hard to imagine how one might record them better than they are here. Mertens' light and expressive, yet masculine, voice is ideally suited to project these texts, and he thoroughly understands how to make their meaning known while not hamming it up too much -- save that for the "Dead Canary" cantata. On this disc, Il Gardellino, a relaxed and very well-coordinated period instrument ensemble, backs up Mertens in addition to providing its own spin on two of the trio sonatas from Telemann's Essercizii Musici, a popular pedagogical publication issued from his own press in 1724. The brief chorale sections are sung one to a part by singers of excellent quality, including Mertens himself.
All of these cantatas are good ones, though the standout is clearly the first piece, "Es sind schön die lezten Zeiten" (The Last Days Are Already upon Us), a bracing and tempestuous cantata about the end of the world that affords Mertens a chance to show what he can do. He is dramatic and explosive in assertive passages, though he never shouts, whereas in sneakier, more mysterious moments he is restrained and fully in the character exemplified by the text, which may have been written by Telemann. This cantata was written for the 25th Sunday after Trinity -- hardly an important occasion in the Lutheran church calendar -- and its message of "sulphur, pitch and the torments of hell" must have been electrifying to the pious Hamburg congregation that first heard it. "Do you, in your arrogance, never think of eternity?" Indeed.
The middle two cantatas are pleasant and more gemütlich works dealing with the love of God and the virtues of hard work, whereas "Wo soll ich fliehen hin" is a cantata paraphrasing the parable of the Wicked Servant in Matthew Chapter 18 that a has more cautionary sound. That's one of the great things about Telemann's cantatas -- he had a way of making something very personal out of work that most composers of his time regarded as sheer drudgery. If you want to get through to Telemann as an individual, then Accent's Telemann: Bass Cantatas is an excellent vehicle for that, particularly owing to Klaus Mertens' superb performance, which tends to exemplify the man as well as it realizes the sound of his music. Full texts and translations are included in three languages.