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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Les Nations - Overtures & Oboe Concertos"

Vinciane Baudhuin, oboea
Bach Concentus
Dir: Ewald Demeyere

rec: Sept 29 - Oct 1, 2013, Antwerp, Concertgebouw deSingel
Challenge Classics - CC72669 (© 2015) (62'30")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in c minor (TWV 51,c1)a; Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in c minor (TWV 51,c2)a; Overture in D 'La Gaillarde' (TWV 55,D13); Overture in G 'Ouverture des Nations anciens et modernes' (TWV 55,G4); Overture in B flat 'Völker' (TWV 55,B5)

Caroline Bayet, Annelies Decock, Mika Akiha, Michiyo Kondo, Ann Cnop, Maia Silberstein, violin; Kaat De Cock, Manuela Bucher, viola; Ronan Kernoa, Michel Boulanger, cello; Elise Christiaens, violone; Ewald Demeyere, harpsichord

This disc is especially interesting for bringing together two genres to which Telemann had a distinct attitude. He had a strong preference for the French style and enthusiastically embraced the form of the orchestral overture or suite which had its roots in the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully. However, he had a somewhat problematic relationship with the Italian solo concerto. Too often he noticed virtuosity for its own sake which he didn't like. In his autobiography of 1718 he complained about a lack of harmony and melody in many concertos he had heard. It is telling that in his concertos he mostly avoids the Vivaldian form of three movements with a division between the solo part and the ritornello. The two concertos recorded here follow the pattern of the Corellian trio sonata.

The two oboe concertos are both in c minor. The concerto TWV 51,c2 opens with an adagio which includes a solo part of great expression; the last movement is dominated by counterpoint. The concerto TWV 51,c1 is quite remarkable. Its first movement opens with a strongly dissonant chord which reminds me of Le cahos, the first movement of the ballet suite Les Eléments by Jean-Féry Rebel. The second movement is dominated by imitation between oboe and strings and includes a number of marked chords. The two remaining movements have clear theatrical traits, reflecting Telemann's skills as an opera composer.

Telemann composed more than 100 orchestral suites in various scorings. The most conventional scoring was for two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc; sometimes he gave a solo part to a single instrument, such as the recorder. The overtures recorded here are for strings and bc. A number of overtures bear a title but it is not always clear whether they are from Telemann's pen, also because only a few have come down to us as autographs. Most of them have been preserved in the library of the court in Darmstadt, and some titles may have been added by a copyist.

There is a clear connection between the Overtures in G and in B flat. Each includes musical depictions of various peoples. The Ouverture des nations anciens et modernes opens with an overture and a pair of minuets. These are followed by six movements devoted to the Germans, the Swedish and the Danish. The first is about the 'old' ones, in a slow tempo, the second the 'modern' ones in a fast tempo. The last movement is called 'les vieilles femmes': two old women "shuffle back and forth, scratching their bellies, while a young man laughs at them, a farce to which Telemann gave voice through a gavotte with chromatic signs" (booklet).

Whether the title is from Telemann's pen is not known. We do know, however, that the title Völker is not; it was added to the Overture in B flat in 1969 by Adolph Hoffmann. This sometimes leads to confusion as the two overtures are mixed up. This overture also presents a series of portraits of various peoples, this time the Turks, the Swiss, the Muscovites and the Portuguese. It is mostly not possible to identify the features which Telemann chose to depict. In the case of the Muscovites it is not so much the people which are portrayed, but the city. It is dominated by the ringing of the bells of the Kremlin. This work again opens with an overture and a pair of minuets. It closes with 'Les Boiteux & Les Coureurs', the lame and the runners. For some reason Bruno Forment, in his liner-notes, thinks these refer to "the 'nation' of the horses", although he adds a question mark between brackets. I can't see any reason why these titles should not refer to people, especially considering the other movements of this work.

The third overture also has a title, La gaillarde; it is suggested that it was given to this piece by the copyist at the Darmstadt court. The reason is unclear: the word gaillarde seems to have no other meaning than the dance, but there is no galliard in this overture. This work was probably included here because three movements may refer to peoples: Sicily (the second is a sicilienne), England (third movement: angloise) and Poland (polonaise, sixth movement). This overture also includes a musette which reflects Telemann's vivid interest in folk music.

Most works on this disc are pretty well known, except the Overture in D 'La Gaillarde'. The oboe concertos are also not that often performed. They are the most convincing part of this disc. Vinciane Baudhuin is a fine player and delivers outstanding performances. The theatrical elements in the concerto TWV 55,c1 come off nicely. I am less enthusiastic about the overtures, and especially the one in G. The sound of the orchestra is not brilliant. That could be partly due to the rather dry acoustic. However, I feel that more could have been done with the musical descriptions of the various peoples. The last movement, Les vieilles femmes, is especially disappointing. This is certainly meant to be theatrical and humorous, but little of that comes across here.

It is especially the two oboe concertos which speak in favour of this disc. The Overture in D is also rather well done. The other two overtures are available in more engaging interpretations.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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