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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681–1767)
The Colourful Telemann
Ouverture (Suite) in c minor for two oboes, violin, strings and continuo, TWV55:c4 [6:25]
Concerto for two flutes, bassoon, strings and continuo in G, TWV53:G1 [11:28]
Sonata in e minor for two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo, TWV50:4 [13:22]
Concerto for two flutes, violin and cello in D, TWV54:D1 [23:00]
Sinfonia Melodica in C for two oboes, strings and continuo, TWV50:2 [11:10]
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra/Barthold Kuijken (flute)
rec. 11–13 February 2019, Ruth Lilly Performance Hall, Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center at the University of Indianapolis. DDD.
Reviewed as lossless (wav) press preview.
NAXOS 8.573900 [64:41]

I don’t think anyone has ever attempted a Complete Telemann collection, or ever will; it would be several times the size of a Complete Bach, itself a cumbersome prospect unless you can find a copy of the USB stick Warner Teldec mp3 collection: Recording of the Month – review – or the Hänssler edition on an iPod. The latter remains available less neatly packaged on 172 CDs (HAEN98620, around £250 – review of earlier reissue: Bargain of the Month).

Naxos haven’t yet assembled a Complete Telemann, but they have been doing very well by his music since the early days when their CDs sold for £3.99 in Woolworths. Among those early releases was an account of the Suite in a minor, TWV55:a2, a viola concerto and other music, which earned and retained a favoured place in the catalogue (8.550156, four stars, key and rosette in the final edition of the Penguin Guide). It’s one of the first Naxos CDs that I bought and I still enjoy listening to the stylish performances, though the Capella Istropolitana plays on modern instruments. I even know where to lay hands on it, which is far from the case with every CD in my collection. And, though Naxos CDs now cost around twice the price of those £3.99 Woolworths specials – more from some dealers; buy with care – almost all can be purchased for less than £5.50 as lossless-quality downloads – not, unfortunately 8.550156, but you should find the CD for around £7.50.

This is the first wholly Telemann contribution from Barthold Kuijken and the period-instrument Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, but their Vivaldi and Telemann album The Grand Mogul (8.573899) led me to expect good things: ‘some very civilised music in very civilised performances’ – review. Could this become a perennial favourite like that early Naxos release?  Before that they released The Lully Effect, which again features the music of Telemann, alongside Lully and Rameau, revelatory performances - review (8.573867) and The Versailles Revolution (8.573868 - review).

There can be no argument with the title: Telemann’s music is colourful, sometimes more colourful than that of Bach. And, with much of the colour in this music provided by the flute – two of them in a pair of concertos here – it’s as well to have a flautist like Barthold Kuijken directing the proceedings.

The short c minor Ouverture (Suite) opens proceedings in style. Coincidentally, I presume, the same work opens a 2005 DG recording from Albrecht Mayer (oboe) and the Berlin Barocksolisten, an album which closes, like the Naxos, with the Sinfonia Melodica (E4775923, download only). Mayer and the Berlin players take both works at a sprightly pace, but, as I wrote when reviewing two other Telemann recordings (Signum and CPO), that album is designed mainly to show off Mayer’s oboe, favoured in the recording balance, though neither work is actually a concerto.

A fairer comparison for the Sinfonia would be with La Stagione Frankfurt on the CPO album in that 2019 review; they open with that work on Grand Concertos for mixed instruments VI (555239-2). It’s an excellent set of performances, and well worth having, even alongside the new Naxos, but it does cost rather more, both on CD and as a download. La Stagione take each one of the seven movements slightly faster than the Indianapolis performers; the difference is only seconds in every case, and the final gigue en canarie takes exactly the same 59 seconds on both recordings.

The CPO recording also includes the e minor Sonata, TWV50:4. Once again, La Stagione are consistently slightly faster in every one of the five movements. I’m usually sceptical about making direct comparisons, especially where, as is the case with the new Naxos recording, everything seems to sit just right, with no sense that the tempo is lagging anywhere.

The opening vivace assai of the Sinfonia melodica takes 2:28 on Naxos and 2:02 on CPO, and, though the difference in tempo is apparent from a direct comparison, heard separately, both of them sound absolutely idiomatic. In fact, for all my continuing enjoyment of the CPO, it does seem just a little hectic played immediately after the Naxos, but it’s an essential purchase for Telemann addicts because it contains some works not otherwise available.

Despite the title, the Sinfonia melodica is neither a symphony in the modern sense nor Italianate; it’s a set of French-style dances and, as such, it receives a stylish performance on Naxos.

With Kuijken on hand, playing his copy of a baroque flute, inevitably the high points of the new Naxos recording are the two concertos for two flutes. Once again, the competition comes from a CPO recording, an 8-CD set of Telemann’s Complete Wind Concertos (777939-2, La Stagione and Concerto Köln sharing the honours). TWV53:G1 is available separately on 777268-2 and TWV54:D1 on 777891-2 – review.

Here, again, the CPO performances are slightly faster, though not necessarily lighter on their feet. If pushed to make a choice, here too I think I would finally settle for the slightly lighter tone of Kuijken and Indianapolis Baroque. I see that I was not alone in noting and approving their light and nimble tone on their earlier Naxos recordings.

I’ve very much enjoyed revisiting the older Telemann recordings mentioned in this review. The music is varied and endlessly inventive, and distinct from that of his two great contemporaries, Bach and Handel. CPO have done so much to bring us his music in first-rate performances, but Naxos, too, have been instrumental in providing Telemann at an affordable price, and this new addition to their catalogue is an excellent example. I asked if it would become as perennial a favourite as that of the Suite in a and other works; I think it may well.

I’ve been ducking one comparison until this point, and that’s with another series of recordings which have done so much to make Telemann’s music available in very fine performances, from Collegium Musicum 90 and Simon Standage for Chandos. TWV54:D1 features on Ouverture burlesque, Chandos Chaconne CHAN0512, a download-only collection which opens with the work of that title. With a group of distinguished soloists, Standage takes the work a shade faster than Kuijken, but I actually found myself slightly preferring the new recording.

I really like the whole of that Chandos series and, surprised that it’s no longer available on CD, I think it well worth downloading. Alternatively, a CDR copy can be ordered. But I can’t honestly say that either the Chandos or the CPO recordings, very good as they are, in any way outclass the new release. Nor is the Naxos recording at all inferior. My review copy came in 16-bit (wav) lossless format, but there’s a 24-bit version for audiophiles.

Like the earlier releases from Indianapolis Baroque, I think I shall be revisiting this frequently; only time will tell if it becomes as perennial a favourite as that Woolworths-bought early Naxos Telemann, but the chances are that it will. As my pick of the four recent Naxos releases that I’ve been hearing as review copies, this has to go into the Recommended category.

Brian Wilson

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