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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Schwanengesang - The Last Orchestral Works"

La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider

rec: Jan 22 - 23, 2014, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal); March 2016, Magdeburg, Konzerthalle Georg Philipp Telemann; June 2021, Frankfurt/Main, Festeburgkirche
CPO - 555 533-2 (© 2023) (2.17'17")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance] Overture in D (TWV 55,D21); Divertimento in A (TWV 50,22); Overture in D (TWV 55,D22); Sinfonia melodica in C (TWV 50,2); Overture in D (TWV 55,D23) & Fanfare in D (TWV 50,44); Overture in F (TWV 55,F16); Divertimento in B flat (TWV 50,23); Sinfonia (Divertimento) in E flat (TWV 50,21); Overture in g minor (TWV 55,g9)

When Telemann died in 1767, at the respectable age of 87, he was still in command of his creative powers. However, in his last years he had problems with his eyesight, which forced him to reduce his compositional activities. Among his last works are the nine pieces that are the subject of the set of two discs to be reviewed here. The title of this production - translated: "Swan Song"- is a free invention; Telemann never wrote a piece with this title, and the collection of these works also does not bear this title. It was put together by his grandson Georg Michael, who wrote on the cover [translated]: "Overtures, Sinfonias, and Divertimenti, in the manuscript of the late Telemann, which he produced in the 86th year of his life for His Most Serene Highness, the Landgrave of Darmstadt, Ludwig VIII".

Two elements are noteworthy. First, it is suggested that these works were written in the year before Telemann's death. That seems unlikely. Only two of the nine works are dated: 1763 and 1765 respectively. The other pieces may well have been written at about the same time. The subtitle rightly specifies that these may be his last orchestral works, as the Telemann catalogue mentions Passions for the years 1766 and 1767. Second, the collection also includes a fragment of the draft of a letter; the addressee is not known, but may have been the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt. Telemann's ties with the court in Darmstadt dated from his time in nearby Frankfurt (1712-1721). At that time his friend Christoph Graupner was Kapellmeister there; we owe to him a large number of copies of instrumental works by Telemann, which otherwise would have been lost. Telemann sometimes borrowed members of the Darmstadt chapel if he needed additional musicians for performances in Frankfurt. In the draft of the letter he writes that a newspaper report about the celebration of the name day of Landgrave Ludwig VIII - ruling prince since 1739 - inspired him to make "the draft of the pieces coming here". That does not indicate that each work of the collection was specifically intended for him or the celebration of his name day. Whereas some works include elements which can be connected to the Landgrave or to a festive occasion, others are more 'neutral', such as the Overture in g minor.

There may have been an additional reason for Telemann to compose music for the Darmstadt Landgrave. In 1760 Graupner had died, and in 1762 his successor Johann Samuel Endler had passed away too. From then on the performances took place under the responsibility of the concertmaster Wilhelm Gottfried Enderle, assisted by Georg Balthasar Hertzberger. The title of Kapellmeister had been given to Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, but he never assumed his duties in Darmstadt. "It is entirely possible that Telemann helped to fill the gap left by this vacant chapel master's post with his late instrumental music for the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, delivering these compositions, so to speak, 'ex externo', Wolfgang Hirschmann states in his liner-notes.

Both in content and stylistically these nine works show quite some differences. Hirschmann does not believe they are meant as a cycle, but Michael Schneider, in his notes from the perspective of a performer, does connect them, which inspired him to perform them in a particular order. For that reason I have listed them in that order in the header.

It is notable that five works have the form of an overture or orchestral suite. This was a popular genre during the baroque period, and rooted in the practice in France of performing instrumental music from operas as a suite. At the time the pieces in the collection may have been written, this form was rather old-fashioned. The most backward-looking of the five is the Overture in g minor. It has the standard scoring of such pieces: two oboes, strings and basso continuo. The ouverture is followed by five dances, and the work closes with a chaconne, another popular genre that had become obsolete around the mif-18th century.

The scoring could give some indication as for whom or which occasion a piece was written. Ludwig VIII was known for being a fanatic lover of the hunt and spent more time in his hunting castle in Kranichstein than in Darmstadt. This may explain the inclusion of two parts for horn - traditionally associated with the hunt - in the scoring of the Overture in D (TWV 55,D21) and in the Overture in F. The latter work ends with a movement depicting a storm (La Tempête), which may well refer to what could happen during a hunting party. The Overture in D (TWV 55,D22) is scored for three trumpets, timpani, strings and basso continuo. Trumpets often appear in peaces written for royals and aristocrats. However, in this case the overture is a suite tragi-comique, and in this form it is the result of second thoughts of the composer about the nature of the piece. In its present form it is a kind of satirical homage to Ludwig: one of its movements is called 'Le Podagre', the complaint he suffered from, and another has the title L'Hypochondre, referring to Ludwig's melancholic moods. The Overture in D (TWV 55,D23) is a mixture of old and new: the scoring with two transverse flutes (alongside strings and bassoon) points in the direction of the galant style, but one of the movements is called plainte, which refers to the practice of including such a piece in the opera in France in the 17th century. It is followed by a Fanfare in D, which - according to Schneider - is part of the overture, despite its different number in the catalogue and its different scoring, as here the bassoon is omitted and a horn is added instead.

The two Divertimenti are scored for strings and basso continuo. The opening movements are followed by a series of scherzi. In the case of the Divertimento in A, Telemann indicates that the scherzi I - IV are Polish dances. Folk music is something which fascinated Telemann all his life, and apparently he did not lose his interest in it in his old age. The two Sinfonias have different scorings. The Sinfonia melodica in C is for two oboes and strings; it opens with a fast movement (vivace assai), which is followed by French dances. Notable is the penultimate movement, called chanconnette. In the Sinfonia in E flat the strings are joined by pairs of flutes and horns. This is another piece which refers to the hunt: the second movement is called reveille, the fourth reveille a chasse and the last >i>retraite. Two movements refer to dinner: la conversation à la table and repas.

All these pieces have been recorded before; the Overture in D (TWV 55,D23) and the Fanfare, recorded by La Stagione itself, is included here. However, it makes much sense to bring them together in one productiom. This way the listener gets a fascinating picture of a composer who in his old age moves between the past and the present, and in doing so shows that he has lost nothing of his creative powers. These works are as entertaining as any work by Telemann. La Stagione Frankfurt is one of the specialists in Telemann's oeuvre. They have done us a favour by recording a large part of Telemann's output in the genre of the concerto, and this is another showcase of their Telemann expertise.

This is a most enjoyable production, to which every Telemann lover will return regularly. It is a feast for the ear.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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