The slow development of the early music scene in the United States is curious in view of the fact that it was in that country where recordings of Baroque music really got their start after World War II. The American early music scene, unlike the related modernist movement, was partly homegrown and did not depend on the ideas of Europeans displaced by the war. Yet the technical level of many amateur or semiprofessional choirs heard on American recordings is, generally speaking, lower than that of comparable European ensembles. This recording by the Washington Kantorei obviously reflects both enthusiasm and commitment. The repertoire involved -- a group of late works by Georg Philipp Telemann that show the composer at his most imposing and, were it not for the lower emphasis placed on contrapuntal artifice, most Bachian -- is well worth the time of performers and listeners. There are any number of recordings of Telemann's wildly imaginative chamber music on the market, but few examples of what he did when writing music for an important event like a New Year's service. These are full-scale cantatas with a large opening chorus featuring trumpets and drums, a variety of arias, and a final chorale, plus one or more intermediate choruses, which may or may not be chorale-based. The non-chorale texts, by an unknown author, are a fascinating mixture of free interpretation of scripture, occasionally interspersed with bits of civic boosterism. The music is rich, colorful, and well worth bringing into the choral repertoire. The only problem is the execution, which is characterized by an oversize choir that overwhelms the music and vibrato-drenched solos that circle around the pitch and don't line up with the choir, and downright unpleasant sound engineering. The market for early music is there in the U.S., as is shown by the large crowds a group like the Netherlands Bach Ensemble can turn out even in venues far from the coasts. But a recording like this isn't going to fill it.
Telemann: Cantatas for New Year Review
by James Manheim