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George Philippe TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Tafelmusik: Ouverture and Suite in D major; Quartet in D minor for two flutes, recorder and continuo; Concerto in F major for three violins and continuo; Conclusion in E minor for two flutes, strings and continuo
Musica Amphion/Pieter-Jan Belder
Recorded at Maria Minor, Utrecht, 2003

There have been several recordings of Telemann’s famous Tafelmusik over the last two decades some being complete versions, for example Musica Antiqua Köln directed by Reinhard Goebel on four CDs (Archive 427619). Mostly however what you will find on CD is a selection from what Telemann called his ‘Four productions’ - i.e. the four sets of chamber and orchestral works released at New Year, Ascension, Michaelmas and Christmas in 1733 on subscription. Financially the risk paid off with many subscribers, fellow composers and the aristocracy, all paying a considerable sum to have their names inscribed on the first printing, and making the acquisitive Telemann a considerable amount of profit into the bargain.

Of course this would all be irrelevant now if the music were of no consequence. The fact is that these various pieces are of a generally very high standard. Handel indeed was a subscriber and ‘borrowed’ liberally. Cherry picking from the four sets to a make a CD is no easy matter; Musica Amphion under Pieter-Jan Belder have achieved a very pleasing selection. It might perhaps have been enhanced by the inclusion of one of the solo works or solo sonatas; there was surely time on the disc. This is one of those recordings that can be enjoyed straight through from beginning to end without a sense of déja vu or tedium, and, as intended, over a relaxing dinner.

Let me compare this version by one from 1989 by Musica Antiqua Köln, on a single disc (Archiv 429 774-2 nla) to show you how this programme was put together.

Belder opens with a glorious Ouverture and Suite in D major from the second production. The key should immediately tell you that a natural trumpet is involved, which it is. There is also an oboe. The whole suite is celebratory and opens, as do all Ouvertures at the time, with the longest movement also called an Ouverture. Of the same length is the Ouverture in Bb (from the first production) which opens Goebel’s selection. Goebel chose a predominantly introverted group of French titled movements whereas Belder’s suite has Italian movement titles such as ‘Allegro’ or ‘Presto’ and a livelier character to match.

Belder, features as the recorder player in the Quartet for two flutes and recorder from the Second Production. This three-movement work is a spirited and interesting piece; much more imposing than Goebel's Quartet in E minor from the First Production.

In both recordings a concerto follows; in fact the same concerto, a particularly fine example, reminiscent of Vivaldi. It is known that Telemann was familiar with the work of his Italian Contemporary. This Concerto is in F major and is from the First Production. Handel borrowed this piece for his Oratorio ‘Solomon’. Both performances are remarkably similar although Belder’s recording is more ‘in your face’ than Goebel’s and has greater attack.

At this point Goebel offers us a thirteen minute trio followed by a solo sonata, ending with a very brief ‘Conclusion’ from the Third Production. Belder goes straight into the much longer but exciting ‘Conclusion’ to the Fourth Production. Goebel’s disc offers fourteen minutes more music.

What was Telemann attempting to do with these compositions? It seems that he was as interested in the union of differing European styles of music (and this is what made these pieces so attractive and interesting to his contemporaries). Couperin intended something similar in his more recent ‘La Parnasse ou L’Apothéose de Corelli’ (1724). I have already mentioned a Vivaldi-influenced concerto. I should also mention the so-very-French influence which lies behind the double-dotted movements in some of the Ouverture sections and the serious Germanic style of the Conclusion on this disc or in Goebel’s B minor Trio. A sort of musical reconciliation is going on emblematic of an attempt to tie together the musical conflicts of the time into one vast publication; and this even before the days of the Common Market!

I like this new disc both for its exciting, often driving performances and its bright recording quality. However Goebel gives you more music and arguably more tastefully performed. This new disc is budget priced however. It is well worth the modest outlay. At any price you would surely not be disappointed.

Gary Higginson

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