The so-called ‘Paris Quartets’ are amongst the most attractive of Telemann’s purely instrumental compositions. Though Telemann was a composer with a distinctive musical imagination and sensibility, it was a sensibility particularly responsive to, and creatively assimilative of, a whole range of styles and musical idioms. This was particularly true when it came to the fashionable Italian and French musical languages of Telemann’s day. He was fertile in the invention of music in which such ‘national’ styles were conflated or juxtaposed with his native Germanic musical inheritance. As early as 1717 he was writing to Johann Mattheson that he was “a grand partisan of French music”.
Of the twelve pieces now generally referred to as Telemann’s ‘Paris Quartets’ (the term seems to have originated with Walter Bergmann’s collected publication of the twelve pieces in 1965) originally published as two separate sets – six appeared as Quadri à Violino, Flauto Traversiere, Viola di Gamba o Violoncello, e Fundamento; ripartiti in 2. Concerto, 2. Balletti, 2 Sonate
, published in Hamburg in 1730. These compositions were reprinted in Paris (as Six Quatuors en six suites
) in 1736/7. In September or October of 1737 Telemann took advantage of a longstanding offer from several Parisian musicians to Telemann himself visited Paris for some eight months, where he seems to have been very well received and where he stayed until May of 1738. In 1738 six further Quartets (N
ouveaux quatuors en Six Suites à une Flûte Traversiere, un Violon, une Basse de Viole, ou Violoncel, et basse continuë) were published in Paris. Of the pieces recorded here the first and the third come from Quadri, the second and the fourth from Nouveaux Quatuors.
This music has already been well served on CD – by Florilegium on Channel Classics, and by Trio Sonnerie on Virgin Veritas, for example – but this first volume of a projected series is still very welcome. This is not music of which a single performance can be altogether definitive – given the range of choices which necessarily have to be made by any set of performers. Holloway, Mortensen and their colleagues are all thoroughly experienced performers of this and related repertoire and there is an ease and assurance about the way in which they present Telemann’s intricate musical conversations, as three voices interweave above (and in further dialogue with) some sure-footed continuo playing. The violin of John Holloway and Linde Brunmayr’s transverse flute repeatedly blend to particularly beautiful effect, but it would be wrong to single out individuals here. This is music which works precisely by not having ‘stars’, and these performances exude a delightful sense of teamwork. Whether in the delightfully lyrical affettuoso which forms the central movement of the Concerto, in the grandeur of the allégrement which opens the Quartet in A minor or the dancing second movement (marked gai) of the Quartet in E minor, there is subtlety and charm everywhere; but the use of such nouns is not meant to suggest that this is merely superficial music. There is strength as well as delicacy and an abundance of musical ideas. Further volumes in the series are eagerly awaited.