musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Virtuoso traveller – duet and trio sonatas"


rec: March 13 - 17, 2006, Château de Juigne-sur-Sarthe
Ambroisie - AM 112 (© 2006) (57'19")

Sonata for cello and bc in D (TWV 41,D6) [1]; Sonata for oboe, harpsichord and bc in E flat (TWV 42,Es3) [2]; Sonata for oboe, violin and bc in g minor (TWV 42,g5) [2]; Sonata for recorder, harpsichord and bc in B flat (TWV 42,B4) [2]; Sonata for recorder, violin and bc in d minor (TWV 42,d10); Sonata for recorder, violin and bc in a minor (TWV 42,a4) [2]

[1] Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728/29; [2] Essercizii Musici, 1739/40

Héloïse Gaillard, recorder, oboe; David Plantier, violin; Emmanuel Jacques, cello; Laura Monica Pustilnik, archlute; Violaine Cochard, harpsichord

For many people the German baroque is first and foremost represented by Johann Sebastian Bach. But in his time his colleague Georg Philipp Telemann was by far the most celebrated composer in Germany. There are a number of reasons for this, but probably the two most important are that Telemann composed for a wide circle of music lovers, from amateurs to professional players, and that a large part of his musical output was published during his lifetime, mostly by himself. Today Telemann is still a very popular composer among instrumentalists, as the many recordings of his orchestral and chamber music testify, but among the public at large he is not always appreciated. It is perhaps necessary to be a player yourself to really appreciate the quality of Telemann's compositions and his idiomatic writing for every single instrument – one of the features of his compositional style.

Bach and Telemann were not just colleagues: they knew each other well, and had a friendly relationship, as the fact that Telemann became the godfather of Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel shows. In his autobiography Telemann appears to be a rather modest and friendly character, without a big ego. He not only was on friendly terms with Bach, but also with Handel, with whom he corresponded, among others about their mutual interest: flowers. In a way one could call Telemann a 'multicultural composer': he soaked up influences from Italy, France, Poland and Moravia, mainly through studying compositions by other composers. The title 'Virtuoso traveller' is a bit misleading, as he didn't travel that much.

His chamber music reflects his versatility as a composer, as he used several forms and several styles and wrote for almost every instrument around. Most pieces on this disc are from the last collection of music he published, the Essercizii Musici. When the publication was advertised in 1739 he announced his withdrawal from publishing. The collection consists of 12 solos – sonatas for one instrument and bc – and trios. The form of the trio sonata was something he especially valued. The many trio sonatas Telemann composed are evidence of his love for this form, and they are well-represented in the catalogue. One wonders why they are so often recorded, whereas other pieces in Telemann's output are still neglected. Having said that Amarillis has made a good choice for this disc, in which tradition and innovation are represented. The trio sonatas scored for two treble instruments – recorder, oboe or violin – and bc are examples of tradition: many works of this kind were written in the first half of the 18th century in Germany and elsewhere. The innovation comes with the sonatas with obbligato harpsichord – unusual at the time, and the first sign of the emancipation of the keyboard from a mere basso continuo instrument in the ensemble.

There is much to enjoy in this recording. The playing is lively, the fast tempi are played in the right speed, and there is no lack of expression in the slow movements. Having said that there are some minuses which can't be overlooked. I like the ornamentation the players are adding, but sometimes wonder why in some movements there is plenty of it, whereas in others there is very little. There seems to be some inconsistency in this department. The same is true for the use of accents and the differentiation between notes. The first two movements of the first item of this disc, the Sonata in d minor, are quite different in this respect. In general I had liked more contrasts in dynamics and articulation.

The sound of the violin is a bit thin: I have heard players with a fuller and stronger tone than David Plantier produces here. As a result the balance between the violin and in particular the oboe (Sonata in g minor) is not ideal. The same is true for the balance in the sonatas with obbligato harpsichord – the latter is playing the second fiddle, which is contrary to Telemann's intentions. This probably is a matter of recording technique.

There are some moments when the tempo is slowing down for a moment – something which can be used to great effect for rhetorical reasons, but here they seem a little arbitrary, for instance towards the end of the last movement of the last sonata on the programme, the Sonata in a minor. In that movement the rhythmic pulse is enhanced by a prominent role of the archlute, partly used as a percussion instrument. This seems to be the fashion of the day, which I definitely don't like. In this movement it is something not called for. The same happens in the last movement of the first sonata, but there it is part of a specific interpretative approach, as Héloïse Gaillard writes in the booklet: "we have chosen to underline the folk-like characterwith a hurdy-gurdy effectin the violin's double stops". Whether one likes it or not, from this perspective the adding of percussive elements makes sense.

The sonata for cello and bc comes from another of Telemann's collections, Der Getreue Music-Meister of 1728/29. It must be one of the first sonatas for cello in Germany, as at this time it was still completely overshadowed by the viola da gamba. Emmanuel Jacques gives a lively and contrasting performance, although not always very subtle.

To sum up: these are good and mostly enjoyable performances of fine music, but not completely convincing and leaving something to be desired. For the complete collection Essercizii Musici the best choice is still Camerata Köln (deutsche harmonia mundi).

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

CD Reviews