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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "3 Overture Suites"

L'Orfeo Barockorchester
Dir: Carin van Heerden

rec: Feb 6 - 8, 2020, Linz, Schlossmuseum (Barocksaal)
CPO - 555 389-2 (© 2020) (66'11")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Overture in G (TWV 55,G1); Overture in G (TWV 55,G5); Overture à 6 in B flat (TWV 55,B13)

Carin van Heerden, recorder, oboe; Philipp Wagner, oboe; Makiko Kurabayashi, bassoon; Julia Huber-Warzecha, Sabine Reiter, Simone Trefflinger, Nina Pohn, violin; Lukas Schurig-Breuß, Daniela Henzinger, viola; Anja Enderle, cello; Maria Vahervuo, violone; Hubert Hoffmann, lute; Anne Marie Dragosits, harpsichord

The orchestral suite or overture was one of the most popular forms of instrumental music in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. It had its origin in France, and in the last decades of the 17th century, many aristocrats were so impressed by the splendour of Louis XIV's court and his musical establishment that they wanted their chapels to play the same kind of music as was performed in Versailles. Several Kapellmeister travelled to France to listen to in particular the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully. They started to compose in the same style; they became known as Lullists. A second generation of German composers who felt attracted to the French style preferred a mixture of French elements with features of the Italian style and traditional German counterpoint. One of the most prominent representatives of this 'mixed taste' was Georg Philipp Telemann.

Early in his career Telemann became acquainted with the French style and this had a lasting influence on his development as a composer. Even his contributions to the typically Italian genre of the solo concerto did "smell of France", as he put it. The overture takes a prominent place in his oeuvre. Exactly how many he wrote is not known; it is assumed that a considerable number have been lost. Hardly any of his overtures have come down to us in autograph, which makes it hard to exactly date them. Almost all have been preserved in copies, which attests to their popularity. Many of his overtures were copied at the court in Darmstadt, where Telemann's colleague and friend Christoph Graupner was Kapellmeister for many years; he himself also composed a substantial corpus of overtures.

Because of the size of this part of Telemann's oeuvre, it does not surprise that a number of them are not available on disc. That is also the case with the three overtures which L'Orfeo Barockorchester, directed by Carin van Heerden, recorded for CPO. All three appear on disc here for the first time. They bear witness to the variety within this genre in Telemann's oeuvre.

The Overture in G (TWV 55,G1) is an example of a piece that has been preserved in a copy from Darmstadt. It is dominated by the French style. The scoring attests to that: the string parts are not for two violins and viola, but to dessus, hautecontre and taille. The third movement is a prélude, the seventh an entrée, which refer to the origin of the overture in French opera. Also typically French are the passages for a trio of two oboes and bassoon. However, this work also includes other elements. Notable is the chromaticism in the opening ouverture. The scoring includes two oboes, but in the second movement the oboes are replaced by a single recorder. It is the only movement where this instrument makes its appearance. It is an air, as most of the movements are. A specific feature is that several movements are or include fugues, which can be interpreted as influences of the German tradition.

The Overture à 6 in B flat (TWV 55,B13), probably dating from 1725, is a typical example of the mixed taste, in this case of the French and the Italian style. Here the scoring already points in that direction, as the string parts are for two violins and viola. The Italian style manifests itself in the opening ouverture, which includes figurations for a solo violin, which are contrasting with passages for a wind trio. The gavotte has a solo part for oboe. The penultimate movement has an Italian title, affettuoso e molto adagio, and includes solo parts for violin and oboe. This movement could easily be taken for the slow movement of a double concerto for these two instruments. A specifically French element is the fifth movement, called plainte, as we find them in French operas of the time. Notable here is a short episode in a fast tempo, which appears halfway the piece and takes just 15 seconds. The closing passepied is another specimen of the French style, as it includes a trio for two oboes and bassoon.

Telemann may have written the Overture in G (TWV 55,G5) in Eisenach or early in his Frankfurt period. Notable is that here we again find the same French scoring as in the other overture in G, mentioned above. It includes two movements of a descriptive nature. The second movement is called Les Augures and in another copy Les Enqurés. It is not clear what exactly Telemann aimed to express here. The second descriptive piece is easier to interpret: La Joye is vividly depicted in the music. In this work the French element manifests itself especially in the frequent use of the form of the rondeau. The third movement is called rondeau(x), the eighth gavotte en rondeau. The closing menuet is also treated as a rondeau: it consists of five sections, of which menuet I returns as a refrain, whereas the menuets II and III are trios for two oboes and bassoon. That is also the scoring of the second sections in the other rondeau movements. The B section of Les Augures is also scored for winds.

As I noted, the scoring of two of the overtures include string parts which bear the French indications of dessus, hautecontre and taille. One wonders how these were intended to be performed. These works were not written for a French orchestra, but for German ensembles which were modelled after the Italian orchestra, with two violins, viola and basso continuo. We also find this scoring in the eight suites which Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (1656-1746) published in 1695 under the title of Le Journal du Printemps. However, he adapted them to the performance conditions at Francophile courts. For instance, the second string part, haute-contre de violon, is composed at a higher pitch than was common in France, which allowed this part to be played at the violin. I assume that this is also the case in Telemann's overtures. From that perspective Carin van Heerden and L'Orfeo Barockorchester may well be right in playing them with a 'traditional' Italian/German baroque orchestra.

This disc is a major contribution to the Telemann discography. It is an impressive testimony of the composer's boundless creativity, as here one particular form is treated in so very different ways. These three overtures are superb compositions and it is easy to understand why Telemann's overtures were considered models of the genre. The performances are exemplary: both the lively and the more introverted or tragic movements receive excellent performances. The trios for two oboes and bassoon are great to listen to, and the solos for oboe and violin are exquisite.

This is another disc that every Telemann aficionado may want to have.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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