Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Overture for recorder, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 55,a2) [31:43]
Concerto for recorder, oboe, violin and bc in G (TWV 43,G6) [7:46]
Overture for viola da gamba, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D6) [23:34]
Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a1) [16:27]
Bart Coen (recorder), Sigiswald Kuijken (viola da gamba)
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. January 2013, AMUZ, Antwerp, Belgium. DDD ACCENT ACC24288 [79:40]
The four compositions on this disc expose three features of Georg Philipp Telemann's oeuvre. As a staunch admirer of the French style he wrote a large number of overtures or suites for orchestra. He was also one of the composers who liked to write quartets - often called quatuors or quadros - for three melody instruments and basso continuo. Lastly, he not only composed music for virtually every instrument in vogue in his time, but he also had a preference for less common combinations of instruments, for instance the recorder and the viola da gamba.
The two overtures recorded here are among Telemann's most famous, and that has everything to do with the fact that in both works one instrument has a solo part. That in itself was rather uncommon at the time. Orchestral suites were mostly scored for two or three oboes, strings and basso continuo, sometimes with an additional bassoon part. Suites of the kind played here are sometimes called concerts en ouverture: they are an exposition of the composer's preference for a mixture of Italian and French elements, the so-called goûts réünis. The solo part refers to the solo concerto which had its origin in Italy, whereas the very form of the suite, comprising an overture and a number of dances, was rooted in French opera. The two overtures on the programme are different: the Overture in a minor has a strongly Italian character as is especially demonstrated in the third movement, called air à l'italienne. Here the soloist has many opportunities to add ornaments, whereas in various other movements he can display his virtuosity. There is no lack of brilliance in the viola da gamba part of the Overture in D either, but as the solo instrument was considered typically French the whole work focuses more on French elegance. It includes some typically French features, especially the addition of a double to the courante.
The title of a piece tells us little about the character of a composition. It happens quite often that a collection is presented under the name of 'concertos' whereas the individual pieces are described as 'sonatas', or the other way round. The Concerto in G has little to do with the Italian-style solo concerto, and is in fact a quartet sonata. The quartet was considered the pinnacle of the composing art. In his treatise Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752) Johann Joachim Quantz stated that "[a] quatuor or a sonata with three concertante instruments and a ground bass is a test of the mettle of any true counterpoint artist". Telemann passed that test with flying colours. This particular quartet has clear Italian traits, for instance in the concertante elements in the first movement and the three-movement texture: fast - slow - fast, after the model of the Vivaldian solo concerto.
Telemann liked to write for uncommon scorings. In his oeuvre we find pieces for violin and bassoon, for trumpet, violin and cello and for transverse flute and viola da gamba. From that angle the scoring of the Concerto in a minor for recorder and viola da gamba is not that surprising. It is an interesting mixture of past and future. The past is represented by the texture in four movements, modelled after the Corellian concerto da chiesa rather than the Vivaldian solo concerto. The future is the galant idiom which clearly shines through in the rhythms of the various movements.
Probably with the exception of the quartet the music on this disc ranks among Telemann's best known. That is one of the disappointing aspects. There are certainly lesser-known pieces in Telemann's oeuvre which would have made this disc more interesting. The second disappointment is the tone of the strings which is often a bit sharp and sometimes even shrill. That also goes for Sigiswald Kuijken's viola da gamba. Especially in the opening movement from the Overture in D he produces a not always pleasant tone, which is sometimes also a little thin. I have heard better performances of this work, for instance from Jordi Savall. The slower movements come off best, for instance the sarabande. It is mostly not a matter of interpretation which reduces my enthusiasm for this production, but especially the sound of the ensemble. Bart Coen is excellent in the Overture in a minor and shows his creative powers in the addition of ornamentation. The quartet is also beautifully played.
Overall this is not one of the finest productions of the otherwise admirable La Petite Bande.