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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. 2019, Ruth Lilly Performance Hall, Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, Indianapolis, USA
NAXOS 8.573900 [64:41]

The title of this disc is a slightly strange one: certainly the idea of “colourful” music is appealing, but Naxos’s use of the adjective arguably implies that there might also be such a thing as colourless Telemann; and if that’s the case, well, I’ve never heard any. That said, there can be no doubt that this project reflects a real love of the composer and his music. In a sense all we need to know about it is expressed by Barthold Kuijken (brother of Sigiswald and Wieland) in an engaging inlay note. Kuijken characterizes the great Hamburger’s approach to composition as follows: “Instead of following a straight line, he goes for a leisurely walk, without a strong previously fixed road map in his mind – but he always finds the way back home again. During his journey, he’ll chat with a friend, stop to watch a beautiful landscape, listen to a bird or to some fiddlers in a tavern, admire a tree or flower… He never seems to be in a particular hurry, and thoroughly enjoys his day”.

There is a lot in that: speaking personally, Telemann always strikes me as one of the composers I would most enjoy meeting, and his music always invigorates me and cheers me up. If it lacks the earnest rigour of Bach or the dramatic power of Handel, that’s fine – he had a different personality from both of them, and achieved very different things. But I’ve quoted Kuijken’s words at such length because they strike me as telling us much not just about Telemann, but also about the (‘historically-informed’, original-instrument) performances of his music recorded here. They too might reasonably be described as “leisurely” and “never in any particular hurry”; certainly they are genial, beautiful, perhaps above all affectionate. As such they are wonderful in their way, but perhaps do less than full justice (if such a thing were possible) to certain aspects of Telemann’s multi-faceted musical persona. They can be a bit low-powered, a bit short of pizzazz, maybe too keen to iron out the rough edges one certainly does get in Telemann recordings by the likes of the Freiburger Barockorchester or Musica Antiqua Köln. And the impression that we are getting a slightly too soft-grained, undifferentiated view of Telemann is confirmed – indeed probably in part caused – by the recording quality: warm, full, inviting, but not offering the last word in analytical clarity.

Those caveats aside, there is a great deal to welcome and cherish here. The choice of repertoire, for one thing. Kuijken does not tell us the reasons behind the selections he has made, but they combine to make a well-rounded, convincing programme of generally less well-known Telemann (I would guess that only the G major Concerto for Two Flutes, with its whopping concertante part also for bassoon, is likely to be familiar territory for most listeners). It’s nowhere stated that the disc is intended as an introduction to or sampler of Telemann for those unfamiliar with him, but in fact it would work very well as such. It mixes concertos for multiple instruments (with a particular focus on the flute) with more standardly scored orchestral pieces. Two of these, the relatively formal Ouverture and Sinfonia Melodica, form an effective frame for the in some ways more playful works in between. All in all, Kuijken offers us a sequence of works that are informed by a wide range of styles and influences, and which probably also represent different phases of Telemann’s career – though it is hard to be sure about this, given the often extreme difficulty of dating his works even approximately.

Another selling point, alongside the choice of items, is the playing of the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. I confess I had not heard them before, even though this is now their fourth disc for Naxos. The previous three are also directed by Barthold Kuijken, and feature mainly, though not exclusively, French repertoire – Telemann in fact gets a look-in on two of them, appropriately enough given his marked indebtedness to French as well as German precursors. All three of the earlier discs were reviewed for MWI by Brian Wilson, and he was enthusiastic – to varying degrees – about all of them (review, review, review). I too find the playing of the (here 16-strong) orchestra highly attractive: it has elegance, polish and, as implied earlier, a certain gentleness of manner. All the instrumental soloists are good, which makes it a shame that, of them, only Kuijken himself is named – one can at least guess at the others’ identity using the booklet’s orchestral list, but that’s not ideal.

Overall, then, this is an appealing Telemann concert which usefully fills a gap in the catalogue (as far as I can tell, no two of the five works have previously appeared together on the same single disc). At Naxos price it can be warmly recommended to those who want to get to know Telemann for the first time, as well as to those who find Kuijken’s perspective on the composer congenial or constructively challenging. As I say, for my taste he is a bit laid-back, rather too inclined to pull his punches; but others will relish that, and it certainly doesn’t stop the disc being a consistently enjoyable and rewarding listen. Telemann emerges from it, as he always should, as one of music’s great life-enhancers.

Nigel Harris
Previous review: Brian Wilson

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