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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767) Polonoise
Aisslinn Nosky (violin), Holland Baroque
Recorded 2020 at Musis, Arnhem, Netherlands DDD PENTATONE PTC 5186 878 SACD [67:52]
It has taken a while, but right now Georg Philipp Telemann is generally recognized as one of the most original and versatile composers of the late baroque era. The number of recordings devoted to his oeuvre bears witness to that. Over the years I have heard quite a number of them, also because he is one of my favourite composers. Many recordings include music that is quite common, such as trio sonatas, some orchestral suites and concertos or his 'Paris' quartets. Once in a while, a disc crosses my path which avoids the well-trodden paths. The disc under review here is one of them.
It focuses on the influence of folk music in Telemann's oeuvre. That is not something we did not know about. On the contrary; this feature of his oeuvre has been discussed in many liner-notes, as there are quite a number of pieces, in all sorts of scorings, where Telemann turned to folk music, for instance in the last movement of a sonata or concerto, as a kind of Kehraus. When I saw this disc's release being announced, I wondered: does it include music I have not heard before? (It does.) And then, there was another issue. An entire disc devoted to polonaises - isn't that a bit too much of a good thing? (No, it is not; this is Telemann).
What do we get here? The thread of this disc is a collection of Polish dances, Dance d'Polonie, known as the Rostock Manuscript, as it is located at the University of Rostock. It includes dances notated in a single violin part. According to Telemann himself, they are literal quotes from the field. During his time as Kapellmeister in Sorau (now Zary), he had the opportunity to listen to what music was played by local musicians in the taverns. He famously characterised it as music of "barbaric beauty". "After only a week of hearing what is played there, you wil have enough ideas to last a lifetime". He may have used the dances from the Rostock Manuscript in his compositions, just adding parts for other instruments. Because of the scoring for a single violin, these pieces are not often performed. It is notable that the whole collection is neither mentioned in the article on Telemann in New Grove, nor included in the work-list. Obviously, a performance needs some arrangement, and that is what Judith and Tineke Steenbrink, respectively violinist and harpsichordist of Holland Baroque, have done. A special case is the Partie Polonois in B-flat, which was originally scored for two lutes. It was performed in this scoring as part at a disc of the Freiburger BarockorchesterConsort (Carus, 1998), but otherwise it is seldom performed. It works very well in this arrangement for strings.
These pieces are called Polonié, Polonesie,Polenesie or Polonoise. Is this not too much of the same? Not really. First, it is not easy to exactly define the polonaise; the liner-notes don't come up with a definition. It can best be considered a collective term for various dances which have some features in common. I have never understood how people can listen to the New Year's Concert, with its endless sequence of waltzes and polkas. I have to admit that I was sceptical about the concept of this disc, but I have been put in the wrong by the result. That is due to the differences between the various polonaises, the various ways in which the music has been arranged for strings and basso continuo, but also to the fact that the pieces are divided over the programme. In between we also get other items. Among them are two pieces which Telemann called Concerto Polonois. They are scored for strings and basso continuo, and therefore didn't need to be arranged. They comprise four movements in the then common order. The features of Polish traditional music are exposed here in all movements, in different ways. These elements are fittingly emphasized, whereas in some other recordings these pieces may sound a little more 'sophisticated'. Here the element of 'barbaric beauty' is more clearly exposed, such as in the first allegro of the Concerto in B-flat.
As we have seen, Telemann often included elements of traditional music in his orchestral and chamber music. The programme includes a number of such movements, isolated from their context. In most cases I find that rather problematic, but as part of the concept of this disc it makes much sense. Moreover, most of these movements are taken from pieces which are available in other recordings. Anyone who wants to hear them as part of their original context, has the chance to do so.
As I wrote, I was sceptical about this disc, but was pleasantly surprised by the musical result of the concept Holland Baroque has chosen. That is due to Telemann: I still have to hear a piece from his pen that is not in any way interesting and at least good. It is also due to the performances. Holland Baroque is an excellent ensemble which always approaches music with enthusiasm and engagement. They often collaborate with kindred spirits, such as here Aisslinn Nosky, a brilliant American violinist, who obviously enjoyed herself becoming involved in this project, as she shows in her playing and in the interview in the booklet. The playing and sense of rhythm of all participants results in more than an hour of perfect musical entertainment.
Anyone who thought that he knows his Telemann and does not expect any surprises from him, turn to this disc. What is written in liner-notes and books about Telemann and the 'barbaric beauty' of traditional music is demonstrated at length here.