musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Concertos for horn and trumpet

[I] "Complete Horn Concertos"
RJ Kelley, Alexandra Cooka, John Aubreyb, horn; Krista Bennion Feeney, violinc
Palisades Baroque
Dir: Richard Dunn
rec: Sept 1 - 2, 2013, Paramus, NJ, Trading8s Music
Centaur - CRC 3380 (© 2014) (76'26")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto for horn, strings and bc in D (TWV 51,D8); Concerto for 2 horns, strings and bc in D (TWV 52,D1)a; Concerto for 2 horns, strings and bc in D (TWV 52,D2)a; Concerto for 2 horns, strings and bc in E flat (TWV 52,Es1)a; Concerto for 2 horns, strings and bc in F (TWV 52,F3)a; Concerto for 2 horns, strings and bc in F (TWV 52,F4)a; Concerto for 2 horns, 2 violins, strings and bc in E flat (TWV 54,Es1)a; Concerto for 3 horns, violin, strings and bc in D (TWV 54,D2)abc; Quartet for 2 violins, horn and bc in D (TWV 43,D8)

Krista Bennion Feeney, Gregor Kitzis, Keats Dieffenbach, Karl Kawara, Dongmyung Ahn, Mark Zaki, violin; David Ceritti, Jessica Troy, Andrea Andros, viola; Myron Lutzke, cello; John Feeney, double bass; Christa Parton, harp; Dan Swenberg, theorbo

[II] "Trumpet & Horn Concertos"
Jean-François Madeuf, trumpet, horna; Pierre-Yves Madeuf, horn
La Petite Bande
Dir: Sigiswald Kuijken
rec: Jan 13 - 15, 2016, Antwerp, AMUZ
Accent - ACC 24318 (© 2016) (58'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for horn, strings and bc in D (TWV 51,D8); Concerto for 2 horns, strings and bc in D (TWV 52,D1)a; Concerto for trumpet, strings and bc in D (TWV 51,D7); Overture for trumpet, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D7); Sonata (Sinfonia) for trumpet, 2 violins, viola and bc in D (TWV 44,1)

Sigiswald Kuijken, Jin Kim, violin; Barbara Konrad, violin, viola; Marleen Thiers, viola; Ronan Kernoa, basse de violon; Benjamin Alard, harpsichord


This year the 250th anniversary of the death of Georg Philipp Telemann is celebrated. This results in a large number of discs being released. However, that is not exclusively connected to the Telemann year. It is a development which has started years ago and has received a boost in the last ten years or so. We have seen a complete series of discs devoted to his wind concertos on CPO, and at the same label a project with the complete violin concertos is still in progress. The two discs reviewed here are devoted to Telemann's concertante music for brass instruments: the trumpet and the horn. Whereas the Centaur disc has been released in 2014, the Accent disc is obviously related to the Telemann year.

Both discs have something special. Firstly, the Centaur disc includes the complete extant music for one to three horns and strings; most of the pieces are little known. The best-known piece is the Concerto in E flat from the 3rd part of the Musique de table. Secondly, the two discs have in common that the trumpet and the horns are played in historically correct fashion. Both instruments have no vent holes, which are modern inventions to improve intonation, and the horns are played open, which means without the hand in the bell. This is a relatively recent development; Jean-Paul Madeuf and his brother Pierre-Yves are the pioneers in this field. If you know Telemann's Concerto in D (TWV 51,D7) - one of the best-known pieces of the trumpet literature - you will immediately notice the difference between Madeuf's performance and more 'conventional' performances, even those with natural trumpet.

Let me start with the Centaur disc. The horn as it was played across Europe in art music, known as cor de chasse or corno da caccia, had its origin in France where it possibly appeared in a comédie-ballet of Jean-Baptiste Lully. Shortly after the turn of the century it made its appearance in Germany. As it was especially associated with hunting, music with parts for one or more horns was particularly popular at the courts of aristocrats. Telemann composed various pieces for Ludwig VIII, landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, the employer of his colleague Christoph Graupner. The landgrave was a great lover of hunting and had a special liking for open air musical performances, for which the horn was obviously well suited. It is probably no coincidence that the third part of Telemann's Musique de table included a concerto for two horns. It has been argued that the concertos and the trios reflect the specific character of the three parts of this collection: the first French, the second Italian and the third German, represented by Dresden. The Dresden court chapel had some of Europe's best musicians in its ranks, and its horn players must have been able to perform this concerto.

Unfortunately the track-list doesn't specify the precise scoring of every single piece. The Telemann catalogue (TWV), which orders the instrumental works according to scoring, show that they are quite different in this respect. The programme opens with the Concerto in D (TWV 54,D2); it has three solo parts for horns and one for violin. It is an example of Telemann's liking of unusual combinations of instruments. In the slow movement (grave) the violin is the only solo instrument. Jean-Paul Madeuf, in his liner-notes to the Accent disc, states that "it was not normal practice at this time for an instrument with technical limitations such as the natural trumpet to play in a slow or modulating movement without a break and without intermittent ritornello sections". The same goes for the horn, and this explains why here and in several other concertos the horn keeps silent. But Telemann would not be Telemann, if he wouldn't break away from common practice once in a while: in the Concerto in D (TWV 51,D8) the horn is involved in the largo, and in the Concerto in E flat from Musique de table the two horns take part in all four movements.

Telemann not only liked unusual combinations of instruments, he also loved to write parts for instruments in pieces which are not naturally suitable to them. Instruments like trumpet and horn were mostly played in larger spaces or in open air, but not in chamber music. However, Telemann composed a concerto for recorder, horn and bc and the Quartet in D (TWV 43,D8) for two violins, horn and bc. Richard Dunn, in his liner-notes to the Centaur disc, refers to this piece's 'hybrid' character: the presence of a tutti marking in the manuscript indicates that it could also be played in an orchestral setting.

That said, there is no fundamental difference between orchestral and chamber music in Telemann's time. The line-up was mostly left to the performers, and a piece with parts for two violins, viola and bc could mostly be performed either with one or with more instruments per part. The former is the option which La Petite Bande chose in its recording of trumpet and horn concertos. The performers were motivated by the "sheer delight in leading the works back into their pure chamber music context, a complete different world from the 'fluffed up' concept of concertos with solo instruments as regrettably so often experienced". In his notes to the individual compositions Madeuf argues that they were intended for performances with one instrument per part. However, that is not always easy to prove. Moreover, there was also a good deal of pragmatism in the way instrumental music was performed, and it seems reasonable to assume that in larger spaces or open air performances more than one instrument per part may have been involved. From that angle this chamber music approach is probably just one of the possible options.

There can be little doubt that the Concerto in D (TWV 51,D7) was intended as chamber music: it is scored for trumpet, two violins and bc, and is close to the concerto da camera which we know from the oeuvre of, for instance, Antonio Vivaldi. It is in four movements, and whereas in the third (grave) the trumpet keeps silent, the first (adagio) is a kind of cantilena for the trumpet. The Sonata in D (TWV 44,1) also seems to be a chamber music piece, even though it is scored for the usual three strings (two violins, viola). It is also known as sinfonia, as this marking is used in the parts. Notable is the fact that the trumpet part has the indication "se piace", meaning that its role is ad libitum. The two fast movements are played without trumpet as bonus tracks at the end of the programme. They show that this piece can indeed be played by strings alone. The Concerto in D (TWV 51,D8) also includes an ad libitum part, this time for an oboe. Madeuf assumes this could be added to create a balanced sound, but it was decided to omit it. The horn plays also in the largo in b minor, where it is pushed to the limits of its technical capabilities. Who said that Telemann mostly wrote easy stuff?

Telemann was a great admirer of the French style. This explains why he composed a large number of orchestral overtures. These were mostly scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc, but Telemann regularly derives from that standard. The Overture in D (TWV 55,D7) is an example, as it is scored for trumpet, strings and bc. However, the trumpet does not play a solo role, comparable with the recorder or the viola da gamba in other overtures. The trumpet here is treated according to the habit in French orchestral music, in which the oboes played colla parte with the violins. Here that is also the role of the trumpet. This overture includes some dances (rigaudon, loure, a pair of menuets), but also character pieces: Plainte, Furies. In the former of these the trumpet obviously keeps silent, but is heavily involved in the latter.

The release of these two discs is most welcome as they shed light on a largely little-known part of Telemann's oeuvre. These pieces demonstrate once again the creativity and independence of a Telemann who was considered the main composer in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. It is particularly nice that the soloists on both discs are willing to take risks in using true authentic instruments and applying historical playing techniques, without modern 'improvements'. Musically it is very worthwhile, as the differences are there for everyone to hear. The players of trumpet and horns on both discs do an excellent job. Their performances are good cases for the approach they have chosen. The performances of the strings is a different affair. La Petite Bande leaves nothing to be desired, but the playing of the strings of Palisades Baroque is not always pleasant to the ear. I could not find any information about the ensemble and the booklet also gives nothing away. The sound is mostly rather thin and cool, and the intonation is often suspect. If this music should be played as 'orchestral music', then the strings should produce a more robust sound and have more presence than is the case here. The use of a harp instead of a harpsichord in the basso continuo is also rather odd. The harp seems not to have played a role in the performance of music in Telemann's time in Germany.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Jean-François Madeuf
La Petite Bande

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