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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Concertos for wind instruments

[I] "Wind Concertos Vol. 4"
Michael Schneider, recordera, transverse fluteb, Martin Hublow, recorderc; Karl Kaiser, transverse fluted; Martin Stadler, oboee, oboe d'amoref; Marita Schaar, bassoong
La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider
rec: Sept 10 - 12, 2007, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
CPO - 777 400-2 (© 2009) (60'47")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in e minor (TWV 51,e1)e; Concerto for oboe d'amore, strings and bc in A (TWV 51,A2)f; Concerto for 2 recorders, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a2)ac; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D (TWV 51,D2)d; Concerto for 2 transverse flutes, bassoon, strings and bc in b minor (TWV 53,h1)bdg

[II] "Wind Concertos Vol. 5"
Michael Schneider, recordera, transverse fluteb; Karl Kaiser, transverse fluted; Luise Baumgartl, oboeh, oboe d'amorei; Martin Stadler, oboe d'amoref; Marita Schaar, bassoong; Ulrich Hübner, Jörg Schulteß, hornj
La Stagione Frankfurt
Dir: Michael Schneider
rec: Feb 3 - 7, 2009, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
CPO - 777 401-2 (© 2010) (67'48")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Concerto for 2 horns, strings, 2 oboes and bc in E flat (TWV 52,Es1)j; Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in d minor (TWV 51,d2)h; Concerto for 2 oboi d'amore, 2 violins and bc in A (TWV 52,A1)fi; Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F (TWV 51,F1)a; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D (TWV 51,D1)d; Concerto for 2 transverse flutes, bassoon, strings and bc in e minor (TWV 52,e2)bdg


The concertos are one of the lesser-known parts of the oeuvre of Georg Philipp Telemann. He himself didn't rate them very highly, as he was more interested in the form of the orchestral overture. This reflected his strong preference for the French style. The concerto was a product of the Italian style, and this had some features he didn't particularly like. He wrote that in concertos of some of his contemporaries he encountered "many difficulties and awkward leaps but little harmony and even poorer melody. The first qualities I hated because they were uncomfortable for my hand and bow, and owing to the lack of the latter qualities, to which my ears were accustomed through French music, I could neither love them nor desire to imitate them".

His output in this genre is considerable, though. The catalogue lists more than 50 solo concertos, almost 30 double concertos, 17 triple concertos and nine concertos with four solo instruments. In the majority of his concertos he avoids the Vivaldian form in three movements, but rather follows the model of the sonata da chiesa, with its sequence of four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast. That is also the case in all but one of the concertos on these two discs, which are part of a series with all Telemann's concertos for wind instruments. The only exception is the Concerto for two horns in E flat (Vol. 5). This has everything to do with his distaste for virtuosity as an end in itself. By opening a concerto with a slow movement, it was rather the expression or the lyrical features of a solo instrument which were placed at the centre of attention. Despite Telemann's statement that his concertos "mostly smell of France", they are examples of the goûts réunis, the mixture of French and Italian styles which was the ideal of most German composers of his time.

Only three concertos have ever been published during Telemann's life; these are part of his collection Musique de table. The other concertos have survived in manuscript. It is almost impossible to date them with any amount of certainty, as most copies don't indicate the year of composition. It is assumed, though, that the largest part of Telemann's output in this genre dates from before 1735. After that he seems only to have composed solo concertos for specific occasions. Telemann was originally educated in playing the harpsichord, the violin and the recorder, but during his development as a composer aimed to achieve a grasp of the features of all instruments in vogue in his time. In his autobiography of 1740 he wrote that he wanted "to make myself familiar not only with the harpsichord, violin, and recorder but also with the oboe, transverse flute, chalumeau, gamba, etc., up to the double bass and the trombone pitched a fifth below". This resulted in his compositions for the various instruments being remarkably idiomatic.

Volumes 4 and 5 in this CPO series are mainly devoted to the more or less 'conventional' instruments recorder, transverse flute and oboe. Less common are concertos for oboe d'amore and those for two or three instruments, like two oboi d'amore, two horns or two transverse flutes and bassoon. Most concertos have the usual accompaniment of strings and basso continuo. There are some exceptions, though. In the Concerto for two horns in E flat (Vol. 5) the strings are joined by two oboes, whereas in the Concerto for two oboi d'amore in A (Vol. 5) the accompaniment is reduced to two violins and bc. The latter is comparable to the concerto da camera as we know it from the oeuvre of Vivaldi.

The Italian style is represented not only in formal aspects of these concertos, in particular in the ritornellos, but also in their content. A striking example is the largo from the Concerto for oboe d'amore in A (Vol. 4), which has an ABA structure, and whose B section is a kind of accompagnato as in an opera, with the solo instrument as the singer. The most Italian concerto on these discs is the Concerto for oboe in d minor (Vol. 5). It opens with a largo which contains frequent general pauses, and is one of the most expressive movements on these discs. An interesting combination of Italian and French influences offers the Concerto for two horns in E flat (Vol. 5). It is in three movements, with particular virtuosic parts for the horns in the first movement. The second is a largo, in which only the strings are playing. Italian are the ornamented episodes for two violins, French is the role of the oboes, which play colla parte with the strings. The latter is a feature of French music by, for instance, Lully. The last movement is a vivace, which has the form of a rondeau, which was particularly popular in France.

French influence also comes to the fore in the Concerto for two recorders in a minor (Vol. 4) and even more in the Concerto for two flutes and bassoon in b minor (Vol. 4), which begins with a grave, followed by a vivace. Together they could be the first movement of an orchestral overture in French style. This concerto belongs to a group of six which were probably composed during Telemann's years in Frankfurt. They have the same superscription in French, "Concert par moi Telemann", and the solo instruments - two transverse flutes and bassoon - are also referred to with their French names. The Concerto in e minor (Vol. 5) belongs to this group as well. The last movement of this concerto is a minuet, again in the form of a rondeau.

The second movement begins with a polonaise, and that refers to a third influence in Telemann's oeuvre: folk music, in particular from Poland. That is also traceable in the Concerto for transverse flute in D (Vol. 4), which opens with a moderato, again in the form of a polonaise. This concerto has a pastoral character, and so has the Concerto for oboe d'amore in A (Vol. 4), which begins with a siciliano. Interesting in this respect is the Concerto for 2 oboi d'amore in A (Vol. 5) the third movement of which is again a siciliana with strong reminiscences of an Italian Christmas concerto.

Lastly some interesting aspects need to be mentioned. Telemann is often associated with entertaining music of a happy nature. The largo from the Concerto for oboe in d minor (Vol. 5) which I have already mentioned before shows there is also a darker side to his oeuvre . The largo from the Concerto for flute in D (Vol. 5) also has a highly expressive character. Telemann may have disliked virtuosity as an end in itself but his concertos are certainly not devoid of virtuosic solo parts. I have already mentioned the parts for the two horns in the Concerto in E flat. The closing allegro from the Concerto for flute in D and the allegro from the Concerto for recorder in F (Vol. 5) are evidence of that as well. Telemann's use of the oboe d'amore as a solo instrument in several concertos is particularly notable. This instrument was only developed in the second decade of the 18th century in southern Germany. According to Wolfgang Hirschmann, who wrote the excellent liner-notes for these two discs, it is quite possible that Telemann's concertos belong among the first - or are even the first - concertos ever written for this instrument.

These two discs prove the brilliance and originality of Telemann as a composer of concertos. He was praised for this by his contemporaries. Johann Adolf Scheibe, for instance, admired Telemann for his ability to write in various national styles and yet always remaining himself. He also characterised his compositions as "körnicht", meaning something like 'energetic', 'to the point'. These two discs completely validate his judgement. That is also due to the fine playing of La Stagione Frankfurt. The ensemble is immaculate and energetic, and the execution of the solo parts leaves nothing to be desired. Karl Kaiser (transverse flute), Michael Schneider (recorder and transverse flute), Martin Hublow (recorder), Martin Stadler and Luise Baumgartl (oboe and oboe d'amore), Marita Schaar (bassoon) and Ulrich Hübner and Jörg Schulteß (horns) deal with the various features of their solo parts convincingly. The variety in character between the concertos comes well to the fore here.

Telemann enjoys growing popularity among music-lovers. Those who have discovered his genius should not hesitate to add these discs to their collection. Others could well become Telemann aficionados after listening to them.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

La Stagione Frankfurt

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