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A practised purveyor of Gebrauchmusic, or entertainment music, Telemann was one of the most published and successful composers of his day. The Scherzi melodichi, which were bound and published in 1734, were written to be performed over the course of week – each one bears the name of a day of the week – for the guests of the spa at Bad Pyrmont where Telemann himself was a frequent visitor. His preface to the works implies that there may have been a grander scheme, certainly more than just a weekly celebration of music, but if so it never materialised. Rather oddly he also suggested that the music was written to praise the spa’s mineral water and its efficacious powers – a rather subtle and oblique piece of advertising.
What is not in doubt is the music’s attractive and immediate melodic appeal. It’s similar in that respect to Tafelmusik, published the year before, though its effect is more direct. The overriding impression is one of incessantly delightful melodic freshness. Harmonic matters are simplified, and grace and elegance are the watchwords for this set of seven suites where each one exudes a pleasing sense of form and function. Telemann absorbed much from Italian music, and some of the movements reflect very strongly this prevailing taste. The dance movements are forthright but elegant, whilst there are enough signs of folkloric elements to make one suspect that this was an essential feature of the music’s ground plan. A fast introduction is followed by succeeding movements that embrace pastoral and cantabile elements. Only ‘Sunday’ differs much from the general scheme, given that it is rather more somnambulant in outline, composed largely just of slow movements. Perhaps the good food and spa waters were slowing the metabolisms of the guests at Bad Pyrmont. This suite, certainly, is the equivalent of reading the Sunday papers with your feet up.
There are plenty of engaging features in this recording by Ensemble Symposium - violin, viola, violone and harpsichord. They play the performing edition made by Simone Laghi, published in Milan. The playing is attractively textured, well-articulated and though closely recorded – anticipatory sniffs can be heard – not abrasively so. Importantly the balance between instruments – especially strings and harpsichord - in the Auditorium ‘Arcangelo Corelli’ in Ravenna has been achieved well. The Presto of Tuesday is particularly attractive, and has richness to the sonority that repays listening closely. The folk elements at the start of the Moderato of Wednesday are catchy, the drone effects especially so. Songfulness is a prime ingredient of the suites, and no better example can be heard than the Vivace of Thursday, though the same day’s Introduction may bring to mind the Queen of Sheba, so zesty is it. The music’s aria-like simplicity is a special and unforced example of Telemann’s geniality, though occasionally a Vivaldian explosive moment occurs – try the Allegro movement of Friday, for example. The moments when the harpsichord plays solo, as in the Dolce, of Saturday, are also appealing.
All told, this is a most entertaining and genial set of music, performed with character and energy.