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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Concertos & cantata Ihr Völker Hört"

Clare Wilkinson, mezzo-sopranoa
Dir: Ashley Solomon

rec: Dec 1 - 3, 2015, London, St Michael's Church, Highgate
Channel Classics - CCS 38616 (© 2016) (78'46")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto a 4 for recorder, oboe, violin and bc in a minor (TWV 43,a3); Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a1); Concerto for transverse flute, strings and bc in D (TWV 51,D2); Concerto for transverse flute, oboe d'amore, viola d'amore, strings and bc in E (TWV 53,E1); Ihr Völker, hört (TWV 1,921), cantata for solo voice, transverse flute and bca [1]; Overture for two horns, bassoon, strings and bc in F (TWV 55,F16) (ouverture; courante; bourrée I/II; La Tempete)

Source: [1] Harmonischer Gottesdienst, 1725/26

Ashley Solomon, recorder, transverse flute; Alexandra Bellamy, oboe; Sally Holman, bassoon; Anneke Scott, David Bentley, horn; Jean Paterson, Magdalena Loth-Hill, violin; Bojan Cicic, violin, viola d'amore; Ylvali Zilliacus, viola; Reiko Ichise, viola da gamba; Jennifer Morsches, cello; Carina Cosgrave, double bass; David Miller, theorbo, guitar; Terence Charlston, harpsichord, organ

The British Ensemble Florilegium has a special liking for Georg Philipp Telemann. In its 25 years of existence it has recorded five discs of his music, among them the 'Paris quartets' and pieces from Musique de table. Its first recording for Channel Classics was devoted to concerti da camera and it is fitting that for its jubilee disc it returned to Telemann. After all, there is plenty in his oeuvre to choose from. It is a bit disappointing that Ashley Solomon has selected pieces which are among his best known and are available in various recordings. The only exception is the Overture in F, but that has been recorded incomplete.

Telemann had a not unproblematic relationship with the genre of the concerto. It 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". This explains why in his concertos he doesn't emphasize technical virtuosity; the combination of various instruments and ensemble in general seem to be of greater interest. It is not surprising that so many of his concertos include two or three solo parts. The present disc opens with such a concerto, for transverse flute, oboe d'amore and viola d'amore. The choice of instruments is also vintage Telemann: he liked unusual combinations and liked to write for instruments which were not very common, such as the oboe d'amore and the viola d'amore.

A typical mixture of instruments manifests itself in the Concerto in a minor (TWV 52,a1). Telemann's oeuvre includes quite a number of pieces in which the recorder (or the transverse flute) plays alongside the viola da gamba. The very fact that Telemann's output includes many pieces with solo parts for the viola da gamba and very few with an obbligato part for the cello bears witness to his general preference for the French style rather than the Italian. In the closing allegro we find another typical feature of Telemann's style: the influence of folk music, especially the music from Poland qith which he had become acquainted early in his career. Polish influences also manifest themselves in the Concerto in D for transverse flute.

The titles of Telemann's chamber music are often a little confusing as (trio) sonatas are sometimes referred to as trios and quartets (or quatuors) as concertos. The latter is probably inspired by the character of some quartets with solo and tutti passages. An example is the Concerto in a minor (TWV 43,a3) which falls into the category of the concerto da camera which also appears in the oeuvre of Antonio Vivaldi. It is a kind of hybrid between the sonata and the Italian concerto. It should be noted that in all the concertante works on this disc Telemann sticks to the texture of the sonata da chiesa à la Corelli. He seems to have preferred this to the three-movement Vivaldian form.

Telemann was also a prolific composer of sacred music. In 1725/26 he published a collection of cantatas for the complete ecclesiastical year which could be used in church or at home, Harmonischer Gottesdienst. The latter explains the small scoring: one voice - high or middle tessitura - with one melody instrument and bc. The basic structure is two arias embracing a (often rather long) recitative which includes the central message of the cantata and is connected to the reading of the day. However, sometimes Telemann moves away from this structure, for instance in Ihr Völker, hört, a cantata for Epiphany. It opens with a short introduction by transverse flute and basso continuo, and then the voice enters, not with the aria but with a short recitative. Then the flute returns with an instrumental episode which leads to the dacapo aria. The recitative is also remarkable as after a while the flute enters when the singer refers to the sunrise and sunset and various things happening in nature. After a while the flute withdraws and the singer says: "But what silence now". This has a quite dramatic effect, and here we are reminded that Telemann was one of Germany's main opera composers.

The disc ends with what was one of Telemann's favourite forms of orchestral music: the overture, reflecting his preference for the French style. Such overtures, modelled after Jean-Baptiste Lully, were quite popular in Germany. Telemann wrote a large number of them, and so did Johann Friedrich Fasch and Christoph Graupner. Bach's four orchestral suites also belong to this genre. The basic scoring was for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo, but Telemann here again regularly opted for different scorings, such as in the Overture in F recorded here, which has two horn parts, plus bassoon and strings. It was especially written for the Landgrave of Darmstadt who was known for his liking for hunting. This explains the inclusion of two horn parts, as this instrument was especially associated with this aristocratic pastime. Unfortunately there was not enough space on this disc to perform it complete. We have here only the first three and the last movements. The missing movements can be downloaded, according to the booklet, but we are not told where. I have found out that they can be downloaded from the Channel Classics site but one has to pay for these tracks. I find this hard to swallow. If one has purchased this disc and then downloads the missing movements it is still impossible - or at least very complicated - to listen to this Overture at a stretch, with the movements in the right order. It would have been a better idea to select a different piece.

But maybe the whole piece could have fit on this disc if some of the fast movements had been played a bit faster. I am not that impressed by the performances. The playing is very nice, and the slow movements come off really well. The Concerto in E, for instance, is mostly good but the closing vivace is too slow and not very vivid. It seems to me that Telemann's music is just far too harmless here. This is all nice, but Telemann's music is more than just 'nice'. It can be dramatic, sometimes disturbing, and yes, even virtuosic. The cantata is the best part of this disc, largely due to Clare Wilkinson's excellent performance.

On balance, this is not the kind of Telemann I like to hear.

P.S. This production includes a second disc with extracts from earlier releases at the Channel Classics label.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Clare Wilkinson

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