Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767)
Darmstadt Overtures
CD 1
Overture for 3 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in g minor (TWV 55,g4) [19:11]
Overture for 3 oboes, strings and bc in C (TWV 55,C6) [25:02]
Overture for 3 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in d minor (TWV 55,d3) [30:42]
CD 2
Overture for 3 oboes, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D15) [22:34]
Overture for recorder, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 55,a2)* [29:00]
Overture for strings, 2 recorders and bc in f minor (TWV 55,f1)*/** [23:30]
Frans Brüggen*, Jeannette van Wingerden** (recorder)
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. March, April, October 1966 (*/**),December 1978, Vienna, Austria. ADD
DAS ALTE WERK 2564 69052-3 [73:15 + 75:24]

Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the composers in Germany who was a representative of a style called 'der vermischte Geschmack', or - in French - the 'goûts réunis'. Its main feature was the integration of French and Italian elements in the traditional German style. There can be little doubt, though, that Telemann had a strong preference for the French style. This could be one of the reasons that he didn't pay much attention to the genre of the solo concerto which was especially popular in Italy. Instead he wrote a large number of orchestral suites, a typically French genre. This interest he shared with Christoph Graupner, who for the largest part of his life worked in Darmstadt. The fact that this production is entitled 'Darmstadt Overtures' has everything to do with it.

Telemann had become acquainted with the French style early in his career. In 1697 he became a scholar at the Gymnasium Adreanum in Hildesheim, and regularly visited Hanover whose court chapel was modelled on French lines and whose Kapellmeister since 1695 was Jean Baptiste Farinel. After his studies in Leipzig Telemann took up the position of Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann II of Promnitz in Sorau in Lower Lusatia - now part of Poland. The count had travelled through Italy and France and had developed a strong preference for the French style. He had brought with him scores of music by Lully and Campra, and Telemann had plenty of opportunity to study those works. It is here that he started to compose overtures, not only for orchestra but also for other scorings.

It is sometimes suggested Telemann composed around 1000 overtures, but that is highly exaggerated. It is assumed, though, that the largest part of his output in this genre has been lost. The number of orchestral overtures which have been preserved is 134, the majority of them (96) in Darmstadt. These are now in the Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibilothek; 72 of these are only known from this source. Accordingly the title of this set does not refer to something all that remarkable since about half of all overtures by Telemann known today are from Darmstadt. Originally the title was only given to the release of the first four overtures, in C and D major and in d and g minor. The two remaining overtures are from another production but they are also preserved in Darmstadt. The Overture in a minor belongs amongst the most popular works by Telemann.

The fact that so many of these works have been preserved in Darmstadt has a specific reason. In 1685 Prince Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Hesse, visited France. He was so impressed by the French style that he engaged several French musicians for his chapel. In 1712 Christoph Graupner was appointed Kapellmeister in Darmstadt, and that same year Telemann moved to Frankfurt - about 30 kilometers from Darmstadt - to take up the position of city music director. Telemann and Graupner knew each other from their time as students in Leipzig, and they had remained in close contact since. Telemann sometimes borrowed members of the Darmstadt chapel when he needed additional musicians for specific occasions. The library in Darmstadt contains about 250 overtures, among them the 96 by Telemann. They are mostly copies by Johann Samuel Endler, who since 1723 was Vice-Kapellmeister in Darmstadt. At that time Telemann had already moved to Hamburg. But his ties with Graupner and Darmstadt remained intact: as late as 1765 Telemann composed an overture for the court in Darmstadt.

Whereas the structure of the keyboard suite was formalised towards the end of the 17th century, composers had an almost unlimited freedom in the composition of orchestral suites. Every suite opens with an overture - after which the whole piece was usually called 'Ouverture' - but otherwise there was no hierarchy nor any rule as to which dances should be included. As a result Telemann's overtures show a great variety in structure and in the order of the various movements. Of the traditional dances only the menuet appears in all overtures. Some overtures include dance-forms such as: bourrée, gavotte, courante, gigue, allemande, sarabande and passepied. The most original is the Overture in g minor, which has a menuet and a loure. In addition it contains a rondeau - which also appears in several other overtures - and three character pieces; 'Les Irresoluts' (the indecisives), 'Les Capricieux' (the capricious) and a 'Gasconnade' (bragging). We find pieces like these in other overtures, like 'Harlequinade' (C6, D15), 'Sommeille' (C6) and 'Les Plaisirs' (a2). Telemann also makes use of dances and other musical forms from various European traditions, like 'Espagniol' (C6), a (scottish) Hornpipe (d3), Polonaise (a2), Plainte and Chaconne (both f1). The latter two are movements that were indispensable in French opera.

In the Overture in a minor the third movement is an 'air à l'italien' which is a reference to the Italian style. It is not surprising that this overture contains such a movement. It is one of the very few which have a solo part that connects them with the solo concerto which was, as I wrote above, a typical Italian phenomenon. Although the Overture in f minor contains parts for two recorders, these only play in the chaconne, otherwise this overture is for strings and basso continuo. In the four other overtures the three oboes lack solo parts, instead being integrated into the orchestra. The treatment of the oboes - and the bassoon in two of the overtures - is various. In the Overture in g minor they play mainly colla parte with the strings. In the Overtures in C and D there is a clear contrast between the woodwind and the strings: they are sometimes involved in a dialogue, and the writing of the woodwind parts is idiomatic. The Overture in d minor is largely written as a dialogue between wind and strings. In this recording this aspect is emphasized by a division of the ensemble into two choirs with their own keyboard instrument playing the basso continuo - harpsichord and organ respectively.

In the original notes of the recording of these four overtures Nikolaus Harnoncourt wrote about his decisions in regard to performance practice. Although some elements in his notes are common knowledge today and hardly need to be written about, it is a shame that these notes are not included in the booklet. The liner-notes are rather general about Telemann and the overture. The original notes were by Martin Ruhnke and are sorely missed. I would have liked to see a new essay which incorporated at least the main elements of the original notes.

Although these recordings are more than 30 years old they still sound very fresh. And as Nikolaus Harnoncourt is one of the most analytical minds in the world of early music one may expect to hear fine things lost in the hands of lesser interpreters. All fine details are revealed and the special effects Telemann frequently included in his music are explored to the full. The four overtures with oboes are quite exciting to listen to. The two other overtures suffer from a less impressive sound quality. But the Overture in a minor is still worthwhile and this is largely down to the solo part taken by Frans Brüggen. His ornamentation, in particular in the 'air à l'italien', is exemplary - a model of creativity and good taste.

These overtures make for good listening, More than many other recordings - including more recent ones - they make clear what a versatile and highly original composer Telemann was. In 2004 Harnoncourt received the Georg-Philipp-Telemann-Award of the German city of Magdeburg - Telemann's birthplace. This was awarded for Harnoncourt’s activities in promoting Telemann’s music. This set and many other Harnoncourt recordings show that this award was richly deserved.

Johan van Veen