Concentus Musicus Wien/Nicolaus Harnoncourt Teldec
(4) 8.35670 ZC 244 688-2
Austian Tonkuenstler Orchestra/Dietfried Bernet
(6) Musical Heritage Society LP 629/30, 637/38, 641/42.
Camerata Romana/Eugen Duvier (exc. from Parts I
and III only) PILZ 160 162/157
Orchestre de Chambre Jean-François Paillard (exc.
from Part II only), Erato ECD 88006
This is, after all, supposed to be a collection, like
Bach’s Musical Offering
or Orgelbuchlein, just a big book full of
stuff to play, to be sampled like a box of chocolates. But the
pieces lead so naturally into one another they are almost always
played as a set. On those occasions when a selection is played
by itself, it is always said to be “from the Tafelmusik”.
I’ve loved this music since the first LP release in 1965. It’s
always been one of the records I actually played, not just collected.
I’m amazed at how many times I’ve put on disk one, intending
to listen to a little bit of it and then four hours later taken
off disk four (or LP side 6), saying to myself, “Oh, is it over
The most remarkable sections are the ends of parts one
and two, called Conclusions
and they are just that, movements which are brilliant and entertaining.
At the same time they convey unmistakably the message that the
party is over now, it’s time to go home, in a way the last movement
of a Dvořák symphony never manages to do. Telemann was
no less daring than Debussy when it came to doing something
Gustav Mahler in Vienna programmed the four Bach Overtures as “symphonies”, naturally after
fattening up the orchestration a bit. Bach wrote only four.
But Telemann is probably the only man who may have written more
symphonies than Haydn did (depending, of course, on how many
manuscripts were sent to the Dresden library for “safe keeping”
during WWII). Telemann, like Haydn, called his symphonies “overtures”
and the comparison is thoroughly valid. So, naturally, Tafelmusik has a few “overtures” in it,
and some sonatas and some concerti — one of Telemann’s best
concerti, in fact, the incredible one for two horns which is
less tuneful than the most blunt of Stravinsky, is rhythmically
more clumsy than the most awkward Beethoven. But you can’t help
humming and dancing along with it.
This music is a little like the best of Mozart’s chamber
music in that only people who love it play it at all and because
they love it they play it very well. So, all the recordings
are good. The Harnoncourt Concentus Musicus recording has their
trademark briskness of sound and sharpness of phrasing. For
this recording Concentus Musicus is a large ensemble, almost
an orchestra, whereas the Camerata sound smaller and closer
and give a little more space to the music in the slower sections.
The Paillard and Duvier recordings are incomplete, have many
virtues including more relaxed tempi, but, in comparison with
the best, are very slightly less polished, less confident, and
probably no longer in print. If you find them at a good price,
they are worth having in addition.
All the soloists on this set are terrific, particularly
the violin and the gritty natural horns in the double concerto.
The flute, played by the conductor, is good, too, but then the
conductor does have other things to do with his hands. The ensemble
are remarkable in the way they ornament precisely together and
skip, stoop and swirl effortlessly around Telemann’s tricky
rhythms. I just wish more of these OI/OPP* people would listen
to the gracious, lyrical, Viennese, Bernet recording and slow
down and sing a little. Where’s the fire, for God’s sake? The
first Conclusion particularly comes across beautifully with just a little
a little more ritardando, a little wistfulness, grace,
and calm. After all, Telemann titled the work in French! Hünteler,
still a little too fast, does better than anybody else currently
in print. If sound quality is taken into fair account, this
is surely the best version ever done.
*OI/OPP= Original Instrument, Original Performance Practice.
In other words, too gritty and too fast.