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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "The Concerti-en-Suite"

Tempesta di Mare - Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra & Chamber Players
Dir: Gwyn Roberts, Richard Stone

rec: Oct 16 - 18, 2017, Philadelphia, Penn., Independence Seaport Museum
Chandos - CHAN 0821 (© 2018) (62'34")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto in F (TWV 51,F4)a; Concerto in F (TWV 54,F1)b; Quartet in g minor (TWV 43,g3)c

[soli] Todd Williams, Linda Dempf, hornb; Gwyn Roberts, recorderbc; Priscilla Herreid, oboeb; Anna Marsh, bassoonb; Emlyn Ngaiab, Rebecca Harrisb, violin; Lisa Terry, Eve Miller, cellob

The world of instrumental music in late-baroque Germany seems quite orderly. Orchestral music can be divided into three categories: concertos and sinfonias for strings, concertos with one or several solo instruments, and overtures modelled after the suites of dances from operas by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The same goes for chamber music, which basically comprised three different genres: the solo sonata, the trio sonata and the quartet.

However, in reality the landscape was more varied. First, there was no watershed between 'orchestral' and chamber music, as most works of the former category could be played with one instrument per part, turning them into something not fundamentally different from chamber music. Second, in the oeuvre of the leading composers of the time, we can find pieces which don't fall into one of the clearly defined genres. One could call them hybrid, as they include elements of several genres. Georg Philipp Telemann, for instance, composed several overtures with extended solo parts for one or several instruments. The best-known example is the Overture in a minor for recorder, strings and basso continuo. As far as the chamber music is concerned, he wrote several pieces with the name of concerto for a scoring comparable with that of a quartet. Some of them have the features of a solo concerto, and fall into the category of the concerto da camera. The present disc includes three pieces by Telemann which cross the borders which divide the various genres.

The programme opens with the Concerto in F (TWV 54,F1), which comprises seven movements. It is a hybrid piece including features of the concerto - the first three movements in the order fast, slow, fast - and the orchestral suite, as the last four movements are dances. As so many of Telemann's concertos, it has been preserved in copies, in this case written for the courts of Schwerin and Dresden respectively. In these copies the concerto is scored for two horns, two violins, recorder, oboe, two cellos, strings and basso continuo. However, an in-depth study of this piece has shown that originally Telemann included two parts for chalumeaus. As in Schwerin and Dresden these instruments were not available, this concerto was strongly adapted. The original version cannot be reconstructed and therefore here the version from Schwerin is performed. Notable is the fact that the second fast movement is a repeat of the opening movement. The bourrée comes in a pair, and the menuet originally also included a trio, of which only the two horn parts have survived; this piece has been reconstructed by Richard Stone. The various movements are allocated to different combinations of instruments. The horns play a central role in the menuet and the closing gigue, but the second movement, a scherzando, is a dialogue of recorder and violin, with the tutti strings playing pizzicato.

It is assumed that the Concerto in F (TWV 51,F4) was written around 1750. In the Telemann catalogue it is ranked among the violin concertos, but in fact it is a hybrid work, a mixture of solo concerto and orchestral suite. The scoring of the orchestra is remarkable: two transverse flutes, two oboes, two horns (in one of the movements with two trumpets as alternatives), timpani, strings and bc. It is divided into seven movements; the violin has a solo role in some of them, but not in all. The first movement is the longest, and here the violin has the most extended solo part, including a cadenza at the end, se piace. This movement is followed by one, called Corsicana; after an allegrezza the scherzo includes again a substantial solo part for the violin and ends with a written-out cadenza. The next movement has no title, but is a gigue en rondeau. For the ensuing polacca Telemann indicated the trumpets as alternatives for the horns, but that is ignored here. This concerto has been preserved in Dresden, and therefore it is assumed that Telemann has written it for the court chapel and its concertmaster, Johann Georg Pisendel. The prominent role of the horns also points in this direction, as the court chapel had some virtuosos on this instrument in its ranks.

The Quartet in g minor (TWV 43,g3) has been preserved in several copies in Dresden, but neither of them bears a title. The scoring for recorder, two violins and basso continuo is that of a quartet, a genre Telemann liked very much. However, its texture is that of a concerto da camera, as the recorder plays a solo role, and the violins are confined to an accompanying role. The order of the movements is comparable to that of the larger-scale works just discussed. It opens with a fast movement without a title, which has the traits of a concerto movement. Next are three dances: siciliana, bourrée and a pair of menuets. In the second menuet the second violin keeps silent.

The booklet claims that this disc is the first which brings together these three pieces of a comparable character. That may be true, but all of these pieces are available in other recordings. I am not sure whether this disc would be my first choice. The quartet is done rather well, and of the larger-scored items the Concerto TWV 54,F1 makes a relatively good impression, but the Concerto TWV 51,F4 is a bit too ponderous to my taste. Unfortunately the recording of La Stagione Frankfurt is not that much better. Overall I find the playing of Tempesta di Mare alright, but not more than that. It is just too straightforward, and I would prefer a more dynamically differentiated and more colourful performance, more in the style of the former ensemble Musica antiqua Köln. Telemann's music is less harmless than it seems here.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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