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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
The Grand Concertos for Mixed Instruments Vol. 1
Track & performance listing below review
rec. March and October 2013, January 2014, Chamber music hall of Deutschlandfunk, Cologne, Germany. DDD
CPO 777859-2 [62:33]

The German label CPO is one of the main promotors of the oeuvre of Georg Philipp Telemann. It has released many discs of chamber music and of sacred and secular vocal works. 2014 saw the last disc in a project devoted to the concertos for wind instruments and simultaneously the complete violin concertos are being recorded. As far as I know the latter project has not been finished as yet. The present disc is the start of a new series: the recording of the concertos for various instruments of different families. There are quite a number of such concertos with sometimes rather unconventional combinations of solo instruments.

The best example of such a work is the Concerto in E, with solo parts for transverse flute, oboe d'amore and viola d'amore. It is one of Telemann's larger concertos and has a certain degree of fame as the number of recordings show. The oboe d'amore regularly makes appearances in baroque vocal and orchestral music. Johann Sebastian Bach, for instance, used it in several cantatas and some of the harpsichord concertos were probably conceived first as concertos for oboe d'amore. In the Telemann's wind concertos series it also regularly cropped up. The viola d'amore is much less common. The best-known works for this instrument are a handful of concertos by Vivaldi. Bach used it in some vocal works - for instance the St John Passion - but otherwise it hardly plays a role in German music of the baroque era. Wolfgang Hirschmann, in his liner-notes, says that he believes it was been written for a specific occasion, probably also for specific virtuosic players of the respective instruments. He suggests a more or less pictorial character, referring to the course of a day in the countryside. The four movements are quite contrasting in character, beginning with an exquisite dialogue for the three solo instruments, followed by a vivid allegro. The performance is good but I would have liked some stronger contrasts. The first movement is an andante and that suggests a somewhat faster tempo than in this performance. The closing vivace is also a bit slowish, and here I would have liked some stronger dynamic accents.

Another quite remarkable piece as far as the scoring is concerned is the Sinfonia in F which closes the programme. The combination of recorder and viola da gamba as solo instruments is not that unusual: it features in a number of sonatas, and the Concerto in a minor is one of Telemann's best known. It is the scoring of the tutti which is noticeable: it includes a cornett and three trombones. These are instruments which were frequently used in the 17th century, but had become almost completely obsolete in Telemann's time. The whole character of this concerto is reminiscent of the stile antico in which the instruments within the ensemble were each other's equals. That is even more the case in the Concerto in a minor. It has been ranked in the Telemann catalogue among a number of compositions for instruments in the treble range, sometimes called 'quintet', such as pieces for two oboes and two horns or two flutes and two oboes. Here the scoring is for two recorders, two oboes and two violins. This piece reminds me of the consort music of earlier times.

Some of Telemann's compositions for 'mixed instruments' were written as introductions to vocal works. That is the case with the Concerto in D which opens the programme. It was intended as the overture to a pastorelle en musique which has been lost. It has five movements and shows a mixture of Italian and French elements. The solo parts are for two trumpets and two oboes. The trumpets play in all the movements which is notable as it was common practice for brass instruments - trumpet, horn - to keep silent in slow movements. Another piece of introductory music is the Concerto in D (TWV 53,D3) which preceded the second part of the opera Das Ende der Babylonischen Monarchie oder Belsazer which has survived only in fragments. The solo parts are for two oboi d'amore and cello, but the latter's solo role is largely confined to the first movement. A different treatment of the solo parts is also a feature of the Concerto in B flat. It is for two flutes, oboe and violin, but the role of the flutes is rather modest; they play mostly in pairs.

From this description it is clear that this disc once again attests to Telemann's versatility. One has to rank him among the most creative and original composers of his time. This first volume includes some pieces which are rather well-known, but also some unfamiliar stuff. Even those who know Telemann's oeuvre pretty well will find some new ground here. The performances are good, but I am not as enthusiastic as I was about the recordings of the wind concertos. Were the players a little less inspired at some recording sessions? I would have liked a little more engagement and passion. However, most of the pieces are pretty well done and there is every reason to look forward to the next volumes in this series.

Johan van Veen

Track & performance listing

Concerto for two trumpets, two oboes, strings and bc in D (TWV deest) [10:34]
Concerto for two transverse flutes, oboe, violin, strings and bc in B flat (TWV 54,B1) [12:13]
Concerto for cello, two oboi d'amore, strings and bc in D (TWV 53,D3) [7:44]
Concerto for transverse flute, oboe d'amore, viola d'amore, strings and bc in E (TWV 53,E1) [17:20]
Concerto for two recorders, two oboes, two violins and bc in a minor (TWV 44,42) [7:03]
Sinfonia (Concerto) for recorder, viola da gamba and orchestra in F (TWV 50,3) [7:27]
Hannes Rux, Almut Rux (trumpet), Tabea Debus (recorder), Michael Schneider (recorder, transverse flute), Karl Kaiser (transverse flute), Peter Frankenberg (oboe), Martin Stadler (oboe, oboe d'amore), Luise Baumgartl (oboe d'amore), Ingeborg Scheerer, Katrin Ebert (violin), Swantje Hoffmann (viola d'amore), Rainer Zipperling (viola da gamba), Juris Teichmanis (cello)
La Stagione Frankfurt/Michael Schneider