Day of Judgment was Telemann’s last major composition, finished just months before his death at the age of 81; it was premiered in a Hamburg concert hall, not a church, but its two interconnected main subjects – the final day of judgment and the triumph of faith – are deeply Christian. The libretto, by theologian and poet Christian Wilhelm Alers (1737-1806) combines elements of lyrical secular music and sacred oratorios and is divided into four movements or “contemplations.”
The often intense drama of the piece is not a matter of story-line or plot – from the work’s ravishing opening, the victory of faith in God is the work’s happy inevitability – but of every soul’s interior conflict between faith and doubt, belief and unbelief. Of the individual sung parts, six are allegorical, four are personifications (a mocker and three blesseds) and two are real people, Jesus and John the Evangelist.
Some “allegorical” singers imbued their parts with distinctly human characteristics. Disbelief (sung by Jonathan Woody) was manly and edgily defiant; Reason (sung by Helen Karloski) was as precise as crystal. Devotion (sung by Enrico Lagasca) turned allegory upside down by presenting his human action as a gigantic, earth shaking force of nature. The second and third blesseds (Donna Breitzer and Jennifer Bates) offered their experience of salvation as meditations, both delicate and profound, or prayers. John the Evangelist (sung by Dominic Inferrera) presented his part more as an embodiment of sacred text, whereas Jesus (Steven Eddy) was at his most deeply human, tender in “Be you blessed” and powerfully, devastatingly angry in “Hence from my sight!”
As much variety as there was in the individual roles, whether allegorical or human, one artistic theme was consistent throughout the work: as brilliant as any Western European composer’s, Telemann’s evocation of nature’s drama – wind, crashing thunder, cracking landscapes and flooding torrents – paralleled the psychomachia of faith. Telemann’s storms in this Day of Judgment were a revelation.
The chorus, whether singing in triumph, in supplication, in wonder or in victory, was beautifully directed, operating as a graceful, organic whole. The sound balances of singers and instruments were at moments perfect: the period instruments and voices trained for baroque performance gave a compelling account of what Telemann might have been expecting to hear when he composed.
Thomas Crawford, ACO’s Music Director, and all who were involved in this gorgeous evening have much to be proud of … and ACO’s audience, much to be grateful for.
American Classical Orchestra: Telemann’s Day of Judgment (October 13, 2015)
The Church of Saint Ignatius of Antioch
552 West End Avenue at 87th Street, in Manhattan
For more information: 212-362-2727 or http://www.aconyc.org
Running time: 90 minutes without pause