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Early Music

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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Don Quixote Suite (Burlesque de Quixotte) [17:48]
(Overture, The Awakening of Quixotte, This Attack on the Windmills, Sighs of Love for the Princess Dulcinee, Sancho Panza Mocked, Rosinante’s Galloping, The Galloping of Sancho’s Donkey, Don Quixotte’s Sleep)
Overture in D minor [23:45]
(Overture, Minuets I and II, Gavotte, Courante, Air, Loure, Hornpipe, Canarles, Gigue)
Suite in E-flat major "La Lyra" [17:32]
(Overture, Minuets I and II, La Vielle, Sicilienne avec Cadenze, Rondeau, Bourées I and II, Gigue)
Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
Recorded at Victoria Hall, Bolton, UK, 22-23 July 1996. DDD
NAXOS 8.554019 [57:08]

 

One of the most respected and prolific composers of his day, Georg Philipp Telemann was both rival and friend to his better-remembered colleague Johann Sebastian Bach. First choice of the committee to fill the vacant position at the Thomasschule of Leipzig, Telemann used the negotiations there to better his position in Hamburg, where he remained until his death in 1767. The job, of course, went to Bach.

Telemann left behind a vast body of work, both sacred and secular with some 1043 church cantatas, forty-six settings of the Passion (one for each year he worked in Hamburg), several operas and countless works of instrumental music. He is noted for his adaptation to the times, staying current with and mastering the changing styles of music that came along during his very long and productive life.

This disc, delivered with great aplomb by Nicholas Ward and his Northern Chamber Orchestra, is a showcase of the composer’s versatility and his gift for writing vivid and picturesque music. Each of the works in this program is delightful in its orchestrational genius, and all are played with great style and conviction.

In what Telemann labeled a burlesque, we are treated to a programmatic setting of a tale or two from Cervantes’ famous novel Don Quixote de la Mancha. This is musical story-telling at its finest. Of particular charm is the little gallop of Sancho Panza’s donkey, and the vivid depiction of Don Quixote’s attack on the windmills.

The d minor overture is typical of the baroque dance suite, with obvious influence from the French masters. Especially noteworthy here is the virtuosic oboe writing. In a tour de force, the oboists of the Northern Chamber Orchestra deliver a performance that is near breathtaking. It is simply lovely playing, with a precision of ensemble attention to detail that is quite above reproach.

The highlight of the Suite in E-flat is its charming third movement, La Vielle, which is an orchestral impersonation of the hurdy-gurdy, and instrument with a drone bass as its principal element of interest. One does not hear a device like this one in Baroque music as a rule, and Telemann’s clever insertion of the folk idiom makes this piece unique and gives it a special winsome character.

Warm and vibrant sound quality, with concise and informative program notes round this disc off nicely, adding yet another gem to the Naxos diadem. Pure delight, this. Buy it.

Kevin Sutton

Colin Clarke has also listened to this disc


My previous experience of Telemann on Naxos was not a particularly happy one (a disc called ‘Best of Telemann’. The present disc, which at least has focus, gave far more pleasure, with the Manchester-based Northern Chamber Orchestra giving fine, vivid performances of music from the pen of this endlessly inventive composer.

Naxos do not seem to like the idea of a catalogue of Telemann’s music, however (not a TWV in sight!). A great shame, considering how much Telemann wrote and how many ‘Ouvertures’ there may be in any one key. Better to go to http://infopuq.uquebec.ca/~uss1010/catal/telemann/telgp.html#Orchestre to sort it all out so at least one can pinpoint the works properly.

Perhaps the Don Quixote Suite comes first as it is one of Telemann’s more famous works. It consists of French Ouverture followed by a set of six character pieces. The full, up-front recording accorded to the Northern Chamber Orchestra may take some getting used to, even once the volume control has been adjusted, for some upper-range shrillness persists. Nevertheless, the playing yields much pleasure, from the nicely clipped dotted rhythms, sighing suspensions and angular play of the slow introduction to the vivacious main body, bright as a button.

This is descriptive music, so Don Quixote’s awakening is half-voiced and gradual against an insistent rhythm. The ‘Sighs of Love for the Princess Dulcinea’ are literally translated into music (and suitably exaggerated here); the witty large intervallic spans of Sancho’s donkey in the penultimate movement need no further explanation, except to mention they brought to mind Mendelssohn’s ‘ee-aw’-ing in the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ incidental music. Telemann’s finale is witty: ‘Don Quixote’s Sleep’ sounds folksy and gutsy … until the final diminuendo into sweet nothing …

The terms ‘Ouverture’ and ‘Suite’ seem to have been pretty much interchangeable at this period, and so it is that the remaining works share a similarity of format. The D minor Ouverture begins with a ceremonially dotted slow section, leading to a 9/8 fugal section. There is much civility in evidence, although the Courante’s textures tended to muddy a little. Still, the Air is lovely and the Ouverture concludes in effect with two Gigues. The penultimate ‘Canaries’ movement certainly begins in Gigue-like fashion before giving way to the very active Gigue-proper.

Finally, the E flat Suite, ‘La Lyra’. The subtitle comes from the third movement, ‘La Veille’, certainly unmistakable because of the drone (hurdy-gurgy) imitation. The ensuing ‘Sicilienne avec Cadenze’ comes as a tender, loving contrast.

Thoroughly enjoyable fare. This is a most approachable coupling. If you are specifically after Don Quixote, you could perhaps try Tafelmusik on Analekta FL2 3138, but bear in mind this is offered at full price.

These recordings date from 1996, but the CD box gives P2003. If this is indeed their first airing, it is good they have seen daylight at last.

Colin Clarke




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