Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Concerto for two violins, strings and bc in G (TWV 52,G1) [9:48]
Concerto for 4 violins in G (TWV 40,201) [6:42]
Concerto for recorder, bassoon, strings and bc in F (TWV 52,F1) [16:21]
Quartet for 2 transverse flutes, bassoon and bc in d minor (TWV 43,d1) [14:58]
Trio sonata for violin, bassoon and bc in B flat (TWV 42,B5) [6:13]
Concerto for violin, viola da gamba, bassoon and bc in b minor (TWV 43,h3) [10:44]
rec. 25-26 April 2010, Studio 2 of Swedish Radio, Stockholm, Sweden. DDD
PROPRIUS PRCD 2059 [64:51]
In his liner-notes the producer Anders Eriksson explains the reasoning behind this project. "The aim was to produce a full-length CD containing partially highly virtuosic and complex music in only two days. Such a limited time frame is tradition only among punk bands, and would be considered unacceptably hectic in other genres. (...) In our case, the time window presents a possibility rather than a problem. It guarantees a spontaneous and straight performance without too much reconsideration. In order to create a vivid recording I have preferred captivating takes with character to those with just fewer defects."
There is nothing wrong with a vivid recording; on the contrary. However one does not need such a tight recording schedule in order to achieve a lively and spontaneous performance. I have heard many recordings which took more time and which were just as vivid and spontaneous as this particular disc. As we shall see some further reflection and consideration would not have gone amiss in regard to some aspects of this performance.
I wonder whether the production of the booklet also took just two days. It comprises eight pages, a title page and seven pages of information in Swedish and English about the concept of this recording - from which I just quoted. There are also biographies of the ensemble and Maria Lindal and pictures of the artists. They are also given space to tell us about Telemann and about playing together. This is all very nice, but would the listener not be better served by giving some information about the music? That is all the more important as a large part of the disc consists of lesser-known pieces from Telemann's large oeuvre. Moreover, for only three of the six items is the catalogue number given. The key of the Concerto in b minor is given in German (H minor) and there is no mentioning of the fact that in this piece - officially referred to as quatuor by the way - the violin plays a part which was originally given to the transverse flute.
The programme is interesting enough, and the fact that it contains mostly lesser-known pieces is one of its merits. The exception is the Quartet in d minor from the second part of the Tafelmusik. Here the scoring is less common: it is mostly played with two flutes and recorder, but in this case the recorder part is played on the bassoon - an alternative suggested by the composer. Among the most unusual compositions is the Concerto in G for four violins without accompaniment. It is one of four such Telemann pieces. The first movement is called 'largo e staccato', and it begins with the violins playing staccato chords from which one violin rises with a solo episode. The roles of solo and accompaniment then switch from one violin to another. It is remarkable how Telemann is able to suggest a full string ensemble with just four instruments in treble range. The piece follows the structure of the sonata da chiesa, with four movements: slow-fast-slow-fast. Just as with many sonatas of this kind - for instance those by Corelli - the second movement is a fugue. There are some strong dissonances in both slow movements. The last movement begins and ends with a unisono passage.
The structure of the sonata da chiesa is also followed in the Concerto in G for two violins, strings and b.c. Telemann didn't compose that many concertos, in comparison with his orchestral Overtures. That has everything to do with his preference for the French style over the Italian. Whereas Italian concertos were often quite virtuosic, Telemann generally avoids virtuosity. He once wrote: "He who can benefit many does better than he who writes for only a few". It was his aim to compose music which was within the grasp of the good amateur. This concerto is certainly not overly virtuosic. In particular the two slow movements - both 'grave' - are expressive and based on polyphony. The last movement is characterised by a strong rhythmic pulse. The Concerto in F - again a double concerto and also in four movements - is a little better-known; remarkable nevertheless because of the unusual combination of recorder and bassoon. They are treated on a strictly equal footing, and they exchange the musical material, partly through imitation. It is a typical example of Telemann's creativity and proof of his original mind. The same is true of the Trio sonata in B flat: the combination of violin and bassoon is anything but conventional. The middle movement is particularly nice.
The Tafelmusik is a large collection of music for various combinations of instruments and in various forms: from orchestral overture to sonatas for solo instrument and basso continuo. It is divided into three 'productions', which all contain one quartet. The second production includes the Quartet in d minor with two transverse flutes, recorder or bassoon and b.c. Here we find a third influence on Telemann's compositional style: Polish folk-music which shines through in the last movement. The disc ends with another little-known piece, the Quartet in b minor. I don't see any reasons why it is called 'Concerto' here, nor do I see why the part of the transverse flute has been given to the violin. One way or the other, the combination of instruments is again remarkable: flute (violin), viola da gamba and bassoon with basso continuo. The opening adagio is particularly notable for its striking level of dissonance. It just shows that there is more in Telemann's oeuvre than just entertaining stuff. One virtue of this disc is that it sheds light on some lesser-known aspects of Telemann's output, for instance the use of polyphony and of daring harmony.
In the booklet Anders Eriksson promised lively performances, and that is exactly what we get. I am generally quite pleased by the playing of the Ensemble REBaroque. The rhythmic pulse is well exposed, and the ensemble is very good. The expressive character of some movements is fully explored, and the performances are quite compelling. However some critical comments need to be made. The Quartet in d minor is the least convincing part of this disc. There are some rough edges, but that is not a matter of playing technique but rather of interpretation. There is just a lack of subtlety and too little differentiation, for instance in the Largo. In the opening Andante the good notes are emphasized in such a strong manner that the quartet’s elegance suffers seriously. In a way these interpretations are a bit one-sided.
The second issue is that the players have taken improvisational freedoms, which may make some impression in a live event, but cannot necessarily stand up to repeat listening. That is in particular the case with the last track, where some gestures are hardly in line with the baroque style. Some may find this quite funny, but I wonder if they would like to hear it time and again. The last point I would like to make relates to the inclusion of cadenzas. There is one in the last movement of the Concerto in F, and also in two movements of the Quartet in d minor. The playing of a cadenza by the lute in the Largo of this quartet is particularly odd, as it has no solo role at all. Even the cadenza of the bassoon in the Vivace seems questionable, mainly because this music was written for amateurs, not for professional virtuosos who might well have liked to add a cadenza of their own. It is issues such as these that make me think that a few more moments reflection might not have been such a bad idea after all.
Even so, this disc should be welcomed because of the repertoire and the generally high level of playing. You won't be bored, that's for sure.
Johan van Veen
A compelling disc with some lesser-known pieces by Telemann. You won't be bored, that's for sure.