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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): "Concerti da Camera Vol. 2"

Camerata Köln

rec: Dec 18 - 20, 2017, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
CPO - 555 321-2 (© 2020) (56'24")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for oboe, violin, viola and bc in D (TWV 51,D6); Concerto (Quartet) for horn, 2 violins and bc in D (TWV 43,D8); Concerto (Quartet) for recorder, oboe, violin and bc in G (TWV 43,G6); Concerto (Quartet) for transverse flute, viola da gamba, bassoon and bc in C (TWV 43,C2); Concerto (Quartet) for violin, horn, cello [bassoon] and bc in F (TWV 43,F6); Quartet for transverse flute, violin, bassoon [cello] and bc in D (TWV 43,D6); Sonata (Quartet) for transverse flute, 2 viole da gamba and bc in G (TWV 43,G10)

Michael Schneider, recorder; Karl Kaiser, transverse flute; Hans-Peter Westermann, oboe; Ulrich Hübner, horn; Marita Schaar-Faust, bassoon; Christine Busch, violin; Ulla Bundies, violin, viola; \ Ghislaine Wauters, viola da gamba; Rainer Zipperling, viola da gamba, cello; Sabine Bauer, harpsichord

Pieces for three instruments and basso continuo take an important place in the chamber music oeuvre of Georg Philipp Telemann. Such pieces are either known as concerto or as quatuor (quartet). These refer to a difference in structure: the former include solo episodes for one or several of the participating instruments, whereas in the latter the three melody instruments are treated on equal footing. However, many of such pieces mix elements of both, in typical Telemann fashion, and this explains why some pieces are called concerto in one source and quartet in another. It is exactly this variety within pieces of a comparable scoring and the freedom Telemann takes in his treatment of the various instruments that make his chamber music so interesting, for performers as well as audiences. The disc under review here is a perfect demonstration of that.

The most remarkable pieces as far as the scoring is concerned, are undoubtedly the two quartets with horn. They embrace the entire programme. However, both quartets are of doubtful authenticity. The Quartet in F is scored for violin, horn, bassoon and basso continuo, and opens with a movement called concerto; it is followed by three dances: rigadon, passepied and giga. The manuscript has the marking of violon (or violone) for the bass part, and this reflects the general practice of treating bassoon and string bass (here probably the cello) as alternatives. Chamber music was mostly intended for amateurs, and the playing of the bassoon was not very common at the time. The Quartet in D, which closes this disc, could also be called a concerto da camera, even though the horn does not participate in the opening largo. The ensuing allegro begins with a fanfare of the horn, and in the rest of the piece it has a solo role, with the two violins reduced to the playing of ritornellos. The third movement is a menuet in the common ABA structure; in the B section the horn keeps silent.

The two pieces may be of doubtful authenticity, but since they have been included in the Telemann catalogue, it was decided to record them, and rightly so, as they are delightful, and chamber music with a part for horn is rather rare anyway. Moreover, they are interesting for reasons of performance practice. Ulrich Hübner, who plays the horn here, has written his own notes in the booklet about developments in the building and playing of natural horns which may bring us closer to how the instrument did sound in Telemann's time. I urge anyone to read them carefully. Here I can only highlight some aspects which are especially interesting and important. He argues that until recently both the 'copies' of natural horns and playing technique were more connected to later times, especially the classical period. That goes in particular for the handhorn technique. In this recording Hübner has followed a path which may bring us closer to the baroque period. He plays two different instruments, a copy (in the Quartet in D) and an original instrument from around 1720 (in the Quartet in F). "[Both] instruments were played with bell held high in the air. The resultant sound differs markedly from the cloudy pastosity of the later Romantic horn, offering a sharp-edged clarity without abandoning the 'sweet opulence' that Mattheson described in 1713. In the D-major Concerto an early form of hand-stopping technique was employed, said to have been codified by Anton Hampel: the hand only moves into the open bell to correct the intonation of singular long notes. The original instrument used in the F-major Concerto (...) allows us to go one step further: roughly 300 years old and well preserved, the horn is tuned to the fundamental of A. Its strikingly narrow and slowly expanding mouthpipe causes an enormous air resistance, which even increases with the cylindrical crook required for F major. When played with a low-resistance conical mouthpiece, the player senses the resistance noticeably 'further in the tubing' and can lean into the tones quite differently in order to modulate them. Along with stability of partials, the horn offers a previously unknown flexibility in pitch for the non-harmonic partials; the embouchure alone suffices for any necessary corrections of intonation". It will be highly interesting to follow further developments in this direction, and it is to be hoped that more players will experiment these playing techniques and that more instruments will be available which allow them to be applied. These features of this disc are enough to make it a major addition to the discography, not only to Telemann's but more general to that of baroque music.

That said, the other pieces have also many interesting things to offer. Those who know about the various categories in the Telemann catalogue (TWV) may wonder why one of the pieces on the programme is ranked among the solo concertos. In the Telemann catalogue at Musique et Musiciens the Concerto in D (TWV 51,D6) is indicated as being scored for oboe, strings and basso continuo. "Strings" usually refers to two violin parts and one viola part, but that is not the case in this concerto, which includes only one part for violin (and one for viola). It can hardly be considered an oboe concerto, as this instrument has only a solo in the slow movement. Elsewhere oboe and violin are equal partners, and the viola has only a harmonic function. Another piece with features of the concerto is the Quartet in D (TWV 43,D6) for transverse flute, violin, cello or bassoon and basso continuo. The first two movements are without any concertato traces; the second is dominated by imitation between the voices. In the third movement the bass instrument takes a back seat, whereas in the last it takes a prominent role. The track-list indicates that it is performed here with bassoon, but that is not correct: the third part is played on the cello.

The Quartet (Concerto) in G (TWV 43,G6) for recorder, oboe, violin and basso continuo has been preserved in a copy by Johann Joachim Quantz, dating from between 1718 and 1724, which indicates that Telemann composed it early in his career. In the first movement he juxtaposes the violin, playing ritornellos, and recorder and oboe. The second movement is dominated by imitation. The last movement is in binary form; in the second half the thematic material is reversed. In Telemann's instrumental music we regularly meet a combination of recorder or transverse flute and viola da gamba. That also goes for the Quartet in G (TWV 43,G10), in which the transverse flute plays with two viole da gamba. Wolfgang Hirschmann, the author of the liner-notes, characterises the first movement as a triple concerto. The second movement includes quite some dissonances. The third movement opens with a fugue, and ends with the three instruments playing in unison. The Quartet in C is an example of a piece called concerto in one source, although it includes few concertato elements. The low instruments take a notable role here, as the piece is scored for transverse flute, bassoon, viola da gamba and basso continuo. The first two movements are dominated by dense counterpoint. The slow movement is a trio of flute, viola da gamba and basso continuo. The closing vivace consists of three identical tutti sections, alternating with two passages for solo instruments: the first for the three melody instruments without basso continuo, the second for basssoon.

This disc is further proof of Telemann's creativity. It is easy to understand why his chamber music was so popular among performers and admired by his peers. Today they still appeal to performers; the many recordings attest to that. Camerata Köln has always been one of his strongest promoters, and that has resulted in a large number of top-class recordings. This is another one. I have greatly enjoyed these performances and am looking forward to the next instalment. And let us not forget the important contribution of Ulrich Hübner, who delivers brilliant demonstrations of the effects of the developments he describes in the booklet.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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