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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Musique de Table (Tafelmusik): Banquet Music in Three Parts (1733)
Orchestra of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis/August Wenzinger
rec. 1964 (Production I) and 1965 (Production II and III). ADD.
First international complete release on CD.
ELOQUENCE 4825864 [68:18 + 65:43 + 66:57 + 75:17]

Whatever other music by Telemann you may know or have access to, the three productions of Tafelmusik contain some of his finest output. I’m very pleased to see these performances, formerly available as extracts only as part of a 55-CD set, Archiv Production 1947-2013 (4791045) restored in full.

August Wenzinger was championing the music of Telemann, with the able assistance of the DG Archiv label, back in the days when his music was little appreciated, and we thought ourselves clever to have LPs of Bach’s Brandenburgs and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, mostly the 1950s mono recordings by Karl Münchinger and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, reissued on the Decca Ace of Clubs label.

By the 1960s performers such as Wenzinger and his Schola, Thurston Dart1 and, a little later, Neville Marriner2 were bringing a much greater sense of period style to their performances than Münchinger and, though Wenzinger’s Telemann may sometimes sound rather staid now by comparison with more recent interpretations, it’s still well worth hearing in this first complete international reissue on CD.

The reissue is especially valuable for those looking for a corrective to more recent recordings, such as another DG Archiv set from Musica Antiqua Köln and Reinhard Goebel (4778714, 4 CDs, target price £14: Bargain of the Month – review – single disc excerpts on E4472962, download only). The other obvious comparison is with Nikolaus Harnoncourt with the Concentus Musicus Wien on Warner Das Alte Werk 2564687041, an unbelievable bargain with a target price of £7 for four CDs. These two recordings were first released almost simultaneously.

I very much like Goebel’s way with Telemann; he takes the fast movements on his 1989 recording at a brisk pace while often allowing the slow movements more time to breathe than you might expect.

Nor are the Schola and Wenzinger as stolid or dated as, I’m sorry to report, their 1950s Monteverdi L’Orfeo now sounds, though it’s worth streaming from Naxos Music Library for the singing of the fresh-voiced Fritz Wunderlich (DG 4531762, download/streaming only). In Tafelmusik they are mostly steady rather than slow, but there is some lively playing, too, as in the Concerto for flute, violin and cello in A, TWV53:A2 towards the end of Production I (CD1 tracks 12-15). The opening largo is taken seconds faster than by Goebel, while the boot is on the other foot in the second movement allegro, where Goebel is over a minute faster. In the third movement Wenzinger’s idea of gratioso takes a minute longer than Goebel’s and the closing allegro is almost two minutes faster from Goebel but both sound in fine in context.

I’ve chosen this concerto because timings are sometimes harder to compare elsewhere since Goebel observes all the repeats, which Wenzinger doesn’t. It’s also a good example of how different ideas of tempo can both work well. I certainly never felt that I had to consider the age of the Wenzinger performance.

There are moments where I find Goebel’s more interventionist style more attractive, as in the opening largo, where he ‘leans’ on passages much more than Wenzinger and the individual parts come through more clearly in the sparer instrumentation. Goebel also varies the tempo more than his predecessor. The effect is to make the listener more attentive, but I know that others will find the older recording more amenable – after all, this was designed to be background music for a banquet. It might not be too advisable to be struck by a particular passage with a spoon of hot soup in hand.

Some time ago, I praised a complete Tafelmusik recording from Freiburg Baroque on Harmonia Mundi when it was available to download at budget price – DL Roundup March 2012/1 – but that very inexpensive download is no longer available and the replacement, from eclassical.com, is uncompetitive with the Wenzinger and Goebel recordings when it costs $54.57, 16-bit only, and without any booklet. Not all dealers seem to stock the CDs, but Amazon UK have the set for £26.99.

In style these Freiburg performances, directed by Petra Müllejans and Gottfried von der Goltz, fall between the easy-going Wenzinger and the more interventionist Goebel. There’s none of Goebel’s exaggeration of galant style in the opening largo of the concerto, but more of a sense of the music moving forward than with Wenzinger and the same is true of the gratioso third movement. The two allegro movements look very fast on paper, at 6.10 and 6.00 respectively and the Freiburg players certainly don’t hang around, though never sounding hectic, so the shorter playing time – almost four minutes faster than Wenzinger and two minutes faster than Goebel – is due mainly to non-observance of all repeats.

Harnoncourt takes a little longer than the others over the opening largo and I found his approach to this movement somewhat lumpen by comparison especially with Goebel. Wenzinger’s easy-going approach is much more to my taste. Nor is the playing of the Concentus Musicus quite as spot-on as that of Musica Antiqua. Overall, Wenzinger would be my Desert Island choice over both later rivals in this movement.

Harnoncourt moves the music along at a similar pace to the Freiburg players in the two allegro movements, again with some omission of repeats and without any sense of over-driving his players. Nor is the sound on this set, originally from Teldec, quite as closely analytical as DG’s for Goebel. If both have the edge on the Wenzinger in that respect, the DG recordings from 1964 and 1965 have come up sounding very well on Eloquence, with just an occasional hint of roughness. The more recent rivals certainly don’t put the 1960s sound in the shade.

There’s a 1995 recording on four separate Naxos CDs from The Orchestra of the Golden Age. The performance of TWV53:A2 on the first CD (8.553724) stands up to comparison with any of the recordings so far considered. These CDs were well worth considering when Naxos albums were super-budget – in fact, somewhere along the line I bought the third CD (8.553731) – but they are a little over-priced now when the Wenziger, Goebel and Harnoncourt complete sets are all on sale at special prices. Those happy with a single-disc 63-minute selection, however, might like to consider the excerpts from these Naxos performances on 8.571070.

Alternatively consider another single-CD selection from The King’s Consort on Hyperion Helios CDH55278 at mid-price – DL Roundup March 2012/1. The contents are the Suites in D from Production 2, TWV55:D1, and B-flat from Production 3, TWV55:B1, with their conclusions. It can be downloaded, with pdf booklet, for just £5 from Hyperion – see DL Roundup March 2012/1.

A 74-minute single-SACD selection from Productions I and II by Florilegium on Channel Classics CCSSA19102 seems to be out of stock in the UK. The fine performances of the Overture and Suite in e minor from Production I are less emphatic than from Goebel and his team, but the recording is transferred at such a high level on the 24/96 download to which I listened as to sound coarse at the climaxes – most unusually for this label which justly prides itself on recording quality. I am now less happy with this recording than when I reviewed it in DL News 2013/4, though I’m still happy with Florilegium’s account of the Concerto in A from Production I on an SACD of Bach and Telemann (CCSSA27208, also reviewed in DL News 2013/4).

Despite my admiration for other recordings which this group have made for the Channel Classics label, I turned back to the Wenzinger recording with a degree of relief. Wenzinger’s concept of the opening lentement may be a little too leisurely by modern standards, the playing not quite as sharp as from Florilegium, but there’s very little else that sounds even the slightest sluggish. The central vite section of the overture should be lively enough for most listeners, the remaining movements are well paced, and the recording is actually more comfortable to live with than the Channel Classics.

I’d hate to have to make a ‘Building a Library’ choice. All the complete sets of this wonderful music have a great deal going in their favour. Fans of Goebel or Harnoncourt can choose their sets in confidence. The Freiburg performances are a little more easy-going than either, though also a little less distinctive. Overall those seeking just one complete set of this marvellous music are probably best advised to choose Musica Antiqua Köln but lovers of Telemann’s music should also consider adding the Wenzinger reissue. Those averse to Goebel’s style will be very well served by the older recording.

If you already own a recording of this music with which you are happy and have access to the Naxos Music Library, I strongly recommend that you at least stream the Wenzinger reissue from there. You will also be able to compare it there with the Goebel and Harnoncourt sets and the four separate Naxos albums.

1 Eloquence have recently reissued his recording of the music of J C Bach and Scarlatti, Mr Bach at Vauxhall Gardens, with Jennifer Vyvyan, Elsie Morison and the Boyd Neel Chamber Orchestra (4825387).

2 Neville Marriner the First Recordings on an earlier Eloquence reissue contains music by Corelli, Geminiani, Cherubini, Torelli, Handel, Manfredini, Bellini, Telemann – Concerto in F from Tafelmusik II, Albinoni, Locatelli, Albicastro, Avison and Vivaldi (4802330, 2 CDs). The recording of Avison’s Op.9/11 was my introduction to that composer. More recently Eloquence have reissued Harpsichord Concertos by Arne, C P E and J C Bach, with George Malcolm (4825117 – review review).

Brian Wilson



 

 




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