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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Twelve Fantasias for solo violin (1735) [63:20]
Violin Concerto in E major TWV 51:E2 (1725?) [11:58]
Violin Concerto in B flat major (apocryphal – J.L.Horn?, 1740?) [16:08]
Violin Concerto in G major TWV 51:G7 (1712?) [10:47]
Violin Concerto in D major TWV 51:D10 (1710?) [5:30]
Violin Concerto in G minor TWV 51:g1 (1710?) [7:01]
Arthur Grumiaux (violin, fantasias)

Iona Brown (violin, concertos)
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Iona Brown
rec. Musica Théâtre, La Chaux-de-Fonds, CH, February 1970 (Fantasias); London, June 1983 (Concertos)

PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 4428291 [63:20 + 51:01]


It is a great pleasure to have Iona Brown’s recording of Telemann concertos back in the catalog – courtesy of the Decca/Philips Eloquence series. This has been a favorite record ever since I bought my copy as a college freshman. Listening to it now, several years later, it is as much a joy to hear as it was then. Deducting nostalgic attachment and the ‘emotional footprint’ that such long-cherished recordings leave in one’s perception, the 1983 recording stands up very well to the very little competition. 

The five concertos are played a little more tamely than we are now used to from “HIP” baroque bands and those influenced by them. There’s a charming and broad, unapologetic old-fashionedness about the Academy’s bright playing (A=440hz), and this suits these Telemann concertos which are themselves neither particularly challenging nor deep works. I should add that they include the apocryphal concerto “No.11” in B-flat major which is not the recently discovered TWV 51:B1 but most likely from the skilled hand of Johann Ludwig Horn. 

Telemann himself just short of disavowed these early works from his time in Eisenach. He says, in his 1718 autobiography: “I have to admit / that they have never grown dear to my heart / even though I wrote quite a lot of them. … I find in them many difficulties and crooked leaps / but little harmony and worse harmony, still…”. 

He may have been a little harsh on himself, because slight or not, they present a baroque pleasantry in the best sense. And surely we care little today, some 300 years later, whether his style was old-fashioned - akin to Corelli, Albinoni, and Torelli; often employing the “Sonata da chiesa” – slow-fast-slow-fast – form - in the light of the ‘modern’ Vivaldi concertos that appeared at the time. 

The combination of soloist and the string orchestra is striking for its coherence and eschews the flashy parts for a dominant soloist. Instead they are more interested in give and take between tutti and soloist. The last of the five concertos on this disc is the lovely G minor concerto with its plaintive slow movement that was good enough to be transcribed by Bach for harpsichord (BWV 985). 

There are not many recordings of these semi-precious concertos around – and between the few there are, there is little overlap. Direct comparison to Elizabeth Wallfisch’s excellent recordings of the Telemann concertos meanwhile (volumes 1 and 2 reviewed by Jonathan Woolf) is not terribly enlightening. Apart from the different pitch, there is much grater intensity, seriousness, agility and explosiveness to be had with the L’Orfeo Barockorchester than ASMF. Next to each other, they almost sound like different pieces. Much as I like Wallfisch, the almost lush renditions with Iona Brown soaring above it all have a charm that is more than just old-fashioned: they are plain good. Chicken Soup for the Baroque Soul. 

Included on the other disc is the recording of Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Violin Solo by Arthur Grumiaux. There is no need to pretend that these works are anywhere near the Bach Sonatas and Partitas but high-quality baroque repertoire for solo violin is relatively scarce and this is, alongside the Rosary Sonatas of Biber, at the top of the heap. They may well have inspired the musical romantic notion of a “Fantasy” because Telemann, too, adheres to no model or concept. They are similar only in length – and then only roughly. 

I adore Grumiaux and most of his recordings – but I’ll gladly admit that I find his solo Bach dispiritingly monotonous. His Telemann is better in that regard, daring the occasional variation in timbre and dynamic shading. This 1970 recording is worlds away from the more recent HIP renditions of Andrew Manze (HMU) and Rachel Podger (Channel Classics). The latter players’ flexibility pays dividends – especially as regards speed or lack thereof: both Podger and Manze dare to be slow. As such this is a fine document of Grumiaux and an excellent bonus to the Iona Brown concertos rather than the primary reason for purchase – even if he does get top billing. 

The sound is very good for both recordings if perhaps a tad boxy with the Fantasias. There are two errant, unidentifiable ‘plops’ on track four.

Jens Laurson



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