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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Fantasia 1, TWV40:26 [3:38]
Fantasia X, TWV40:23 – Allegro, Presto [03:03]
Sonata de Concert, TWV44:1 [9:29]
Suite “La Bizarre” – Ouverture, Rossignol, TWV55:G2 [7:00]
Mandolin Concerto, TWV51:fis1 [7:22]
Partita No.2, TWV41:G2 [11:04]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Hamburg Sonata, Wq133 [7:57]
Carl Friedrich ABEL (1723-1787)
Piece for solo viol, WK209 [3:56]
Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758)
Lute Concerto, FaWV L:d1 [11:50]
Alon Sariel (mandolin, archlute, baroque guitar)
Concereto Foscari
rec. 2016, Neustädter Hof & Stadkirche St. Johannis, Hanover, Germany
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300934BC [66:03]

If we think of the mandolin in 18th century music, we invariably think of Vivaldi, whose Concerto for Four Mandolins as well as his sole solo concerto for the instrument have established themselves in the popular repertory. The Ospedale de la Pietŕ in Venice, where Vivaldi was employed as maestro de concerti encouraged its girls to learn the mandolin, and it appears to have been a most respectable instrument which was often to be found in ensembles and chamber groups in Italy for a few decades from the second half of the 17th century. It seems not have been held in such high regard elsewhere, and it attracted few composers other than those working and trained in Italy. However, if any composer of the period outside Italy was going to try out a novel instrument and give it prominence in a concerto, that composer was going to be Telemann. It might seem from this disc, released as part of the 250th celebrations marking Telemann’s death, that recent discoveries have included a hitherto unknown Mandolin Concerto. Sadly, that is not the case. What we have here is purely speculative; what Telemann might have done had he known about the mandolin.

In his determination to bring about a re-assessment of an instrument too often dismissed as a bit of a light music joke (a kind of marginally up-market ukulele), Israeli musician Alon Sariel has taken a Telemann concerto in the unusual key of F sharp minor and arranged it for mandolin. And hugely effective it is too. So well done, in fact, that it is hard to imagine this was not Telemann’s original intention. Sariel is a very persuasive player; articulate and communicative, able to draw a surprising array of colours and effects from his small but delightful box of tricks. The Telemann Concerto opens in stately style the mandolin describing graceful ornamental arcs around statuesque string chords, while subsequent movements find it pattering away through some lively passagework and, in the third movement, taking on an almost harp-like character as Sariel makes the most of the work’s opportunities for arpeggiated chords.

Other Telemann arrangements include two movements from the 10th Fantasia for solo violin which provide an effective framework for Sariel’s arrangement of the Sonata in D, originally for Trumpet and Strings. Here Sariel places the mandolin not as substitute for the trumpet, but in the role originally intended for first violin, adding an extended cadenza to the first movement. This changes the whole character of Telemann’s original. More seriously, I take strong issue with much of Sariel’s stylistic approach, which often seems muddled and confused – beyond the obvious fact that these performances are, by their very nature, inauthentic. The extensive use of notes inégales in the first movement removes it stylistically from Germany and translates it into the depths of France. Similarly, the very Italianate stylistic character imposed on the finale seems quite out of keeping with a composer who, while happy to look far and wide for ideas, remained firmly rooted in the traditions of north Germany. But forgetting Telemann and all this stylistic muddle, we can freely celebrate the joy of this magical sound – not to mention the tremendously invigorating playing of Concerto Foscari – and revel in what is, unquestionably, an enchanting performance.

The Partita in G is a more straightforward transcription of a work for violin (or oboe or flute or trumpet) and continuo, with Sariel fluent and precise in his rhythmic articulation and subtle in his interpretative nuances. Two movements from one of Telemann’s characteristically ebullient suites – this one subtitled “La Bizarre” – find the mandolin delicately imitating a nightingale against a delightful pizzicato string accompaniment, while for the Ouverture he moves on to the baroque guitar to provide a unobtrusively strumming continuo. Here is a rare chance to focus on the playing of Concerto Foscari. They are neatly attentive to the detail and produce a beautifully light and transparent sound, especially in the energetic fugue. In every respect this is a gem of a performance.

Telemann is clearly the prime focus here; a fact underlined by booklet notes which concentrate exclusively on his life and Sariel’s relationship with his music. But the programme also includes works by three other composers which, again, appear in arrangements which Sariel himself has made. With the Hamburger Sonata the simple act of transcribing the original flute part for a plucked string instrument gives the music a very delicate quality and introspective quality in which the hand of C P E Bach seems to have been largely obscured. Abel’s Piece for solo viol comes from 27 such pieces he composed and is a reflective adagio in D minor. For this, Sariel turns to the mellower-toned archlute, and effectively plays the piece as written with a few added chords and decorative flourishes – and highly effective it is too. A less extreme makeover is given to Johann Fasch’s Concerto for Lute where the archlute takes over the solo role. This gives the music a most pleasing warmth, with an almost ground-shaking depth resonance at the very start of the second movement. Together with extremely sympathetic and intelligent playing from Concerto Foscari, this introduces to the disc something which is not just delightful on the ear, but both musically and stylistically convincing.
Marc Rochester



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