Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Concertus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Berliner Barock Solisten/Rainer Kussmaul
Concerto Amsterdam/Frans Brüggen
Ensemble Florilegium Musicum/Hans Ludwig Hirsch
WARNER CLASSICS 9029586013 [13 CDs: ca 14 hrs]
Les Agremens/Wieland Kuijken
Choeur de Chambre de Namur
RICERCAR RIC375 [8 CDs: ca 10 hrs]
This year sees the 250th anniversary of the death of one of the most prolific composers in history, Georg Philipp Telemann. That is why we find a proliferation of recordings, both new and re-released. The first company to do so was Brilliant Classics, who released its 10-CD Telemann Collection (95440) in January. It was taken from their much larger 50-CD Telemann Edition (95150), which was released two years ago. Both contain some very fine recordings, but even the large set can only scrape the surface of the over 3700 works Telemann is known to have composed. Here we have the latest two sets to mine the archive. Warner have looked back at the Teldec and Parlophone catalogues to come up with some real gems. Ricercar have also looked back and produced a set of equally compelling recordings. Both sets bare preferable to the Brilliant Classics Telemann Collection.
Georg Philipp Telemann was born in Magdeburg on or around the 24th March 1681. The son of a deacon at a local church, he received his first music lesson from a local organist; despite this, he is largely a self-taught musician. He was forbidden by his family to undertake any musical studies. His future lay in the practice of law. He did, however, derive a system where he learnt, composed and performed in secret, even composing an opera whilst still living at home. Following the wishes of his mother, he entered the University of Leipzig to study law, but—much to the annoyance of his family—he soon settled on a career in music. He held important positions in Leipzig and Frankfurt before he finally settled in Hamburg, where he held positions in the five main churches of the city. He became an important player in the development of music in Germany. He also acted as a conduit for the incorporation of the French, Italian and even Polish styles into German music. He was friends with the likes of Handel and Bach. The latter even made him godfather to his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, giving him the name Philipp in honour of Telemann.
Over the last few weeks, I have been listening to an awful lot of Georg Philipp Telemann’s music, not just presented in these two sets, but also of other recordings of the composers music which I own. The music presented in both these sets is varied and colourful. Both give a good snapshot of the composer and his music, although only Warner offer any of his at least thirty operas. Pimpinone oder Die ungleiche Heyrath deals with the unequal marriage between the old Pimpinone and his former chambermaid, the scheming young waspish Vespetta, who has schemed her way into the marriage. This is a comic opera, in which Siegmund Nimsgern is at his best whilst Uta Spreckelsen is very good as the young wife. She almost sounds like a young Mady Mesplé. What this set lacks is any texts and translations of the vocal works, something it has in common with the Ricercar, but it is more important to have the libretto present for the opera than for the religious works.
Of the religious works, I prefer the Matthäus-Passion and the cantatas, especially Du aber Daniel, gehe hin on by the Ricercar set, to Der Tag des Gerichts and Ino included by Warner. While both performances are excellent, I felt more engaged listening to the Ricercar’s offering. It might be that the performances in the Warner set date from 1966 and sound is a little dated now in comparison to the Matthäus-Passion which is a live recording from 2002. Both are, however, sung very well indeed, with Stéphane Van Dijck an excellent Evangelist in the Passion.
All performances of the concertos and suites are excellent, with nothing to help choose between the sets. The Warner set is larger, so more extensive when it comes to the orchestral music. There is a two-disc selection of the ever-popular Tafelmusik, although if you want it complete, you are best off with another label. Brilliant Classics (92177) released in 2004 a first-rate performance by Musica Amphion on four CDs.
Both sets offer truly excellent recordings of the chamber music with, as the note to the Ricercar set states, the Quartet in g minor TWV 43:g2 for oboe, violin, bass viol and continuo, a real masterpiece. However, for me it is the Trio Sonata in e minor TWV 42:e2 for oboe, flute and bass continuo, which best shows Telemann’s ability to absorb music from other traditions and make it his own. Here we have a Trio from the Tafelmusik, Production II that just shouts its French credentials at you, especially when you get to the final movement Vivace, which sounds as if it has just been lifted from a Lully ballet. The performance of the Ricercar Consort is brisker than that by Musica Amphion, giving this performance a real sense of a small suite of dance movements. There are some lovely performances in the Warner set too, especially of the Six "Paris" Quartets, in an excellent performance by Sonnerie dating from the early 1990s.
So, if you are looking for a single box and want to decide which one to go for, my answer is simple: have both. However, if I had to choose just one, I would have to go for the Ricercar box with its reliance on chamber music, which is something I enjoy most of all. That being said, if you are more orchestrally minded, or are an opera buff, then the answer is the Warner set, although, as I have mentioned, either set would enhance any collection. One thing which should be said, and which might be a deciding factor, is the inclusion of the booklet notes. Warner offer four pages of notes to cover their thirteen discs that only give the basic information about the composer and his music. Ricercar, on the other hand, offer the listener seventeen pages of well-informed and detailed notes. As mentioned above, neither set offer any sung texts, but if you search hard enough, most of these can be found online.
CD 1 Overtures I [73:15]
CD 2 Overtures II [75:24]
CD 3 Concertos I [53:50]
CD 4 Concertos II [64:20]
CD 5 Concertos III [67:18]
CD 6 Tafelmusik I [61:34]
CD 7 Tafelmusik II [59:16]
CD 8 6 "Paris" Quartets I [60:14]
CD 9 6 "Paris" Quartets II [57:42]
CD 10 Trio Sonatas & Quartets [55:10]
CD 11 Vocal Works I – The Day of Judgement [62:53]
CD 12 Vocal Works II – Ino [58:40]
CD 13 Operatic Works – Pimpinone [70:25]
CD 1 Concertos [73:49]
CD 2 Chamber music [75:50]
CD 3 Chamber music [78:50]
CD 4 Chamber music, Overtures & Concertos [74:47]
CD 5 Chamber music [78:07]
CD 6 Chamber music & Concertos [76:15]
CD 7 Matthäus-Passion I [73:01]
CD 8 Matthäus-Passion II, Cantatas [66:04]