- Der aus der Löwengrube errettete Daniel
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The oratorio "Der aus der Löwengrübe errettete Daniel" (Daniel in the Lion's Den) ascribed here to Georg Philipp Telemann isn't some discovery pulled out of a basement in Kiev or found straining coffee in Vienna. It's always been around, extant in at least two different late eighteenth-century manuscripts, both copies, but both identified as being the work of George Frederick Handel. This is clearly not right as Handel never composed a German oratorio; indeed, Handel's interest in oratorio didn't begin to evolve until early in his Italian years. This case of mistaken identity was not resolved until the discovery of two important clues in written sources: a letter from J.F. Agricola stating that he had just come into possession of a copy of Telemann's "Daniel" oratorio, and a listing in the sales catalog of the sometimes unreliable music dealer J.J. Westphal of this work along with some other known works of Telemann. After this identification was made, all of the other factors regarding "Der aus der Löwengrübe errettete Daniel" fall into place; Telemann wrote it for the 1730-1731 season in Hamburg with his librettist Albrecht Jacob Zeit as part of a cycle of allegorical "oratorios" dealing with biblical subjects. It's an outstanding work, with the first part characterized by breathless energy, palpitating percussion, and vigorous choruses. While the beginning of the second part lags a bit with a steady round of recitatives and arias, "Der aus der Löwengrübe errettete Daniel" gets its game going again midway in the second part and works its way to a satisfying close; indeed, it is just as entertaining as a good Handel oratorio and enjoys the advantage of being shorter than many of those by the London-based master. This performance by La Stagione Frankfurt throbs with the excitement of novelty and discovery; male alto Kai Wessel, in the title role, turns in a particularly dedicated and engaging performance and bass Ekkehard Abele, in the role of Darius, also performs commendably here. There is an attitude problem with Telemann, especially in the United States, that the enormous popularity he enjoyed during his lifetime was to some degree unmerited, that at the end of the day he simply wasn't as great as Bach or Handel. "Der aus der Löwengrübe errettete Daniel" was good enough to be mistaken for Handel not long after Telemann's passing in 1767; for modern audiences, the compelling forward movement of this piece and its appealing overall sound should serve evidence enough that Telemann's reputation was fully merited and that artistically he was on an equal footing with his contemporaries.