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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Concertos & Overtures

[I] "Le théâtre musical de Telemann"
Ensemble Masques
Dir: Olivier Fortin
rec: June 25 - 27, 2016, Suin, Église Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption
Alpha - 256 (© 2016) (66'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto polonois in G (TWV 43,G7); Ouverture in G 'Burlesque de Quixotte' (TWV 55,G10); Overture in A (TWV 55,A1); Overture in B flat 'Völker-Ouvetüre' (TWV 55,B5)

Sophie Gent, Tuomo Suni, violin; Kathleen Kajioka, viola; Mélisande Corriveau, cello; Benoît Vanden Bemden, double bass; Olivier Fortin, harpsichord

[II] Concertos & Overture
Concerto Stella Matutina
Dir: Wolfram Schurig
rec: June 13, 2014 (live), Götzis, Kulturbühne Ambach
fra bernardo - fb 1503997 (© 2015) (72'04")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concerto a 3 in F (TWV 42,F14); Concerto a 6 in F (TWV 52,F1); Concerto a 10 in F (TWV 54,F1); Overture in F (TWV 55,F3)

Wolfram Schurig, recorder; Ingo Müller, Elisabeth Baumer, oboe; Herbert Walser-Breuss, Bernhard Lampert,horn; Barbara Meditz, bassoon; Silvia Schweinberger, Susanne Mattle, Ingrid Loacker, Ulrike Cramer, Fani Vovoni, Sarina Matt, Ruth Konzett, Daniela Fischer, violin; Lucas Schurig-Breuss, Julia Beller, viola; Thomas Platzgummer, Gerlinde Singer, cello; Armin Bereuter, violone; Johannes Hämmerle, harpsichord


Every time I receive a parcel with discs to be reviewed it includes at least a couple with music by Telemann. Right now he is arguably one of the most often recorded composers of the baroque era, alongside Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. At last the music world has discovered the astonishing creativity and versatility of this master whose huge productivity didn't diminish the quality of his output in any way. The present two discs shed light on one of his qualities: his willingness to explore new grounds and to depart from conventional patterns.

The Ensemble Masques focuses on a genre which Telemann greatly appreciated and which reflects his preference for the French style: the orchestral overture. This had its roots in French opera which was established by Jean-Baptiste Lully. His operas opened with an ouverture and included a number of dances. Monarchs and aristocrats across Europe were impressed by the splendour of the French court and this explains why the French style was widely embraced. Several German composers studied French music, sometimes going to Paris to study with Lully himself. They were called Lullistes; Telemann, despite his love of French music, was not one of them as he liked to mix elements of the French style with influences from elsewhere: the German contrapuntal tradition, the Italian style which came to the fore in the - often virtuosic - writing for solo instruments, and folk music, especially from Poland, Bohemia and Moravia. It is this mixture of a various styles which makes his output quite unique.

Telemann's orchestral overtures or suites come in different scorings. The most traditional was for two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc. However, Telemann often derived from this convention. The Overtures which Olivier Fortin selected are all for strings and bc, without any wind instruments. At the other end of the spectrum we find the Overture in F (TWV 55,F3) which is included in the programme that Concerto Stella Matutina recorded. It is for two oboes, two horns, bassoon, strings and bc. The horns play quite a prominent role in this work which has been found in the library of the court of Darmstadt, like so many works from Telemann's pen. The horn was associated with the hunt, one of the main occupations of the aristocracy. It is quite possible that the Ouverture in F was especially written for Ludwig VIII, Landgrave of Darmstadt, who was known for being a fanatical huntsman. At various moments we hear hunting signals, but the horns also participate in the more intimous movements, such as the sarabande. They manifest themselves again prominently in the last two movements: réjouissance and fanfare.

The overtures which the Ensemble Masques plays have another specific feature: they belong among the genre of descriptive music which Telemann was very fond of. The Overture in B flat (TWV 55,B5) is one of several whose movements are called after various peoples across Europe. These pieces are not descriptions of their respective characters, but highlight something which is associated with them. The Turcs, for instance, are portrayed with janissary music including drumming basses (without the use of percussion), whereas the movement called Les Moscovites is dominated by the imitation of bells, likely referring to those of the Kremlin. The titles hide the fact that Telemann makes use of the traditional French dances. The Overture in G (TWV 55,G10) bears the title Burlesque de Quixotte and represents a different kind of descriptive music. Telemann here portrays several elements of the story from this novel by Cervantes, such as his awakening to the sound of military rhythms, his amorous sighs for Dulcinea, the attack on the windmills, Sancho's donkey and the dreams of Quixotte. This piece reflects not only Telemann's skills in portraying characters and situations in instrumental music, but also his talent as a composer of operas. After all, he was a key figure in the Hamburg opera for many years.

The influences of folk music are documented by the Concerto Polonois in G and the Overture in A (TWV 55,A1). The latter seems a relatively little-known piece: I couldn't find any previous recording. It opens with a typical French overture in three sections: the first is a slow movement in dotted rhythms, followed by a fugal section in a fast tempo after which the first section is repeated. Next comes a sequence of dances: branle, gaillarde, sarabande, réjouissance, passepied and canarie. This shows that Telemann didn't stick to the most conventional dances of the time but included various dances known as galanteries. The influences of folk music are especially notable in the gaillarde; the sarabande includes quite some harmonic tension. The Concerto Polonois is then entirely devoted to Polish music. The four movements have Italian titles but are in fact dances. The opening dolce is a polonaise, the third movement (largo) is a mazurka. There are imitations of Hanakian music in the second movement (the Hanakian are a Moravian people which Telemann encountered in southern Poland) and drone-like effects.

The remainder of the programme recorded by the Concerto Stella Matutina seems conventional: the concerto was one of the most popular forms of instrumental music in the first half of the 18th century and was often inspired by the Vivaldian model. However, these concertos are anything but conventional. The texture of the Concerto a 6 in F is not unusual. Telemann generally preferred the pre-Vivaldian four-movement form, inspired by the sonate a chiesa of Corelli. The uncommon aspect is the scoring for recorder, bassoon, strings and bc. Telemann had a special liking for unusual combinations of instruments in his concertos and sonatas. Examples are pieces for recorder or transverse flute and viola da gamba or for oboe and descant viol. Moreover, the bassoon itself was not often used as a solo instrument. Not many composers from the baroque era wrote bassoon concertos; Vivaldi was the most productive with 39, Graupner the most prolific composer in Germany, with four very virtuosic concertos. The recorder and the bassoon are quite different in character, but Telemann treats them on strictly equal terms and creates a remarkable interplay between them. The third movement has the character of an opera aria. This is one of the most 'Italianate' of Telemann's concertos.

The Concerto a 3 is another example of a most unusual combination of instruments: the two melody parts are for recorder and horn. The latter is anything but an instrument for the intimacy of the salon as it was - as we have seen - mostly associated with the hunt. But this piece is a chamber concerto in which the two instruments are supported by basso continuo alone. Ironically in this work - whose scoring is not different from that of a trio sonata - Telemann follows the model of the Vivaldian solo concerto, with three movements: allegro, loure and tempo di menuett.

The Concerto a 10 in F is the most unusual piece in the programme. The title suggests a concerto for one or some solo instruments and strings, but in fact this is a mixture of concerto and overture. It comprises six movements: the first is a vivace which is followed by a series of dances. The scoring is also uncontional, even more than the title page of the manuscript suggests. It mentions solo parts for oboe, two horns and violin - the latter is played here on the recorder, which is not mentioned, let alone explained in the liner-notes - but in several movements we find extended solo parts for bassono, especially in the pair of bourrées and at the start of the loure. I don't know whether this name refers to the bassoon or to any bass instrument; here these episodes are played on cello and violone.

These discs convincingly demonstrate that Telemann was an independent mind who always looked for new forms and new scorings. He undoubtedly was one of the most creative composers of the baroque era and it is nice that this talent is recognized at last.

Both discs are strong cases for Telemann. That especially goes for the recording by Concerto Stella Matutina which is colourful and dramatic when needed. The effects Telemann aimed at are perfectly realized and in particular the two hornists deserve much praise for their brilliant playing. The parts of recorder and bassoon are also very well played. Obviously the disc of the Ensemble Masques is quite different. Not only have we here strings alone, the ensemble also plays with one instrument per part. I am not suggesting that this is historically incorrect, but I am not so sure that in Telemann's time this was common practice. The miking is a bit too close for comfort; I would have preferred a little more space around the instruments. However, there is nothing wrong with the interpretation. The theatrical aspects in the descriptive overtures come off nicely, and the folkloristic traces are fully explored without exaggeration and in a not demonstrative way.

If these discs don't convince you of Telemann's qualities, nothing will.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Concerto Stella Matutina
Ensemble Masques

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