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Lully's Followers in Germany
Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704)
Sonata No 2 in G minor [Armonico tributo] [19:22]
Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656-1746)
Suite No 1 in C [Le Journal du Printemps] [9:24]
Fasciculum I 'Nobilis Juventus oder Adeliche Jugend' [Florilegium Secundum] [11:05]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Overture in E-flat (TWV 55, Es4) [28:16]
El Gran Teatro del Mundo
rec. 2021, Espace culturel C. J. Bonnet, Jujurieux, France
AMBRONAY AMY314 [68:22]

My colleague Johan van Veen, who is very well versed in music of the Baroque era, has written at length about this release, and I direct you to his review for an analysis of the musical styles and methods employed by the three composers, especially as it relates to the choices and compromises involved in this recording.

Rather than send you away from my review quite so early, let me summarise Johan’s points. El Gran Teatro del Mundo is an ensemble of eight players, three of whom form the basso continuo, with two violins and three winds as the melody instruments. The “problem”, if it is one, is that the four works presented here were composed with middle strings as key elements, especially the Telemann, which was written for strings only. The notes address this by describing their approach as using “reduced” scoring. When I last checked, reduced meant fewer/less, not different. These versions seem to me to be more in the manner of arrangements. It does rather beg the question: why not choose music written with instrumentation better suiting the ensemble’s composition? This is especially so when one considers that this is the debut recording for El Gran Teatro del Mundo.

However, I am not an expert in this area, simply an interested listener, so my comments reflect my impressions of the music as heard, and the playing. Let’s address the latter first, because the Swiss-based group is very good indeed. The basso continuo group provide a deep and rich undercurrent, the two violins avoid the harsh and wiry timbre that one often encounters, and even in the fastest sections, the wind players do not gasp and gulp.

Turning to the music as played, a few issues do arise for this listener. The composition of the ensemble does mean that the sound is very wind-dominated, which is not my preference, but such is the quality of the playing that I was kept interested for much of the almost seventy minutes. Of the four works, the Telemann Overture stood out, despite its wind-less origins. The distinctive Telemann rhythms seemed emphasised, if anything, by the recorder and oboe. Throughout, the faster movements worked better; some of the slower ones seemed far too slow for music underpinned by dance rhythms. The Muffat sonata has five movements marked Grave among its nine, and El Gran Teatro del Mundo seem to take this as a direction to play very, very slowly; as a consequence, the work does rather drag. The Fischer Suite which follows is almost the opposite; just about everything is lively, and I found myself thinking it would have been good for balance, if musically totally inappropriate, to have switched a couple of the Fischer movements with two of the Muffat Graves.

The sound quality is very good – I have already mentioned the lack of audible breath noises. The notes are a little sparse, and don’t really address the ties between the composers here and Lully. Telemann, born 15 years after Lully’s death, seems the most tenuous link, though there is no doubt that he certainly used the French dance suite style widely.

I certainly enjoyed a lot of this, perhaps more than I’d expected, but it is probably more for the Baroque specialist, especially one with a fondness for recorders. Will I return to it? Possibly not.

David Barker

Previous review: Johan van Veen

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