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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Concerti da camera & Sonatas

[I] Essercizii Musici
rec: March 2017, Amsterdam, Waalse Kerk
Channel Classics - CCS 40118 (2 CDs) (© 2018) (1.59'35")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Sonata for oboe and bc in B flat (TWV 41,B6); Sonata for transverse flute and bc in D (TWV 41,D9); Sonata for viola da gamba and bc in e minor (TWV 41,e5); Sonata for violin and bc in A (TWV 41,A6); Sonata for oboe, violin and bc in g minor (TWV 42,g5); Sonata for recorder, oboe and bc in c minor (TWV 42,c2); Sonata for recorder, violin and bc in a minor (TWV 42,a4); Sonata for transverse flute, harpsichord and bc in A (TWV 42,A6); Sonata for transverse flute, viola da gamba and bc in b minor (TWV 42,h4); Sonata for viola da gamba, harpsichord and bc in G (TWV 42,G6); Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in D (TWV 42D9)

Ashley Solomon, recorder, transverse flute; Alexandra Bellamy, oboe; Bojan Cicic, violin; Reiko Ichise, viola da gamba; Jennifer Morsches, cello; David Miller, archlute, guitar; Pawel Siwczak, harpsichord

[II] "Concerti da Camera Vol. 1"
Camerata Köln
rec: March 17 - 19, 2015, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
CPO - 555 131-2 (© 2018) (68'03")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for oboe, violin, viola da gamba and bc in g minor (TWV 43,g2); Concerto for recorder, oboe, violin and bc in a minor (TWV 43,a3); Concerto for transverse flute, viola da gamba, bassoon and bc in b minor (TWV 43,h3); Concerto for transverse flute, violin, bassoon and bc in G (TWV 43,G11); Concerto for transverse flute, violin, cello and bc in d minor (TWV 43,d3); Quartet for recorder, violin, viola and bc in g minor (TWV 43,g4); Quartet for transverse flute, two viole da gamba and bc in G (TWV 43,G12)a

Michael Schneider, recorder; Karl Kaiser, transverse flute; Hans-Peter Westermann, oboe; Christine Busch, violin; Ulla Bundies, viola; Rainer Zipperling, viola da gamba, cello; Ghislaine Wauters, Sofia Diniz, viola da gambaa; Marita Schaar, bassoon; Sabine Bauer, harpsichord


For many years Vivaldi shared the top position in the number of recordings with Bach and Handel. In recent years Telemann has closed the gap: these days he is almost as popular a composer among performers in the field of baroque music as his Italian contemporary. It was about time: after all, he was by far the most admired German composer of his time. His popularity was largely due to the fact that he composed a large amount of music which was within the grasp of the fast growing number of amateurs. They liked to purchase music they could play at home or in social gatherings - music that was interesting and entertaining, but technically not too complicated. One of Telemann's many skills was his ability to create music of great variety in then common forms, such as the solo sonata, the trio sonata and the quartet. The two productions reviewed here bear witness to that.

Telemann was not only a prolific composer, he was also a music publisher, as he printed most of his music himself. The Essercizii Musici was the last collection he took care of; he announced the publication in a Hamburg newspaper and added that it would be his last. Although it came from the press in 1739/40, it seems likely that the sonatas which Telemann brought together in this collection, were written at least more than ten years before. The set includes 24 sonatas, divided into twelve solos for one instrument and twelve trios for two instruments, both with basso continuo. Telemann was known for the variety of his scorings. He often wrote music for less than common instruments, such as the pardessus de viole or the viola d'amore, but also for less than conventional combinations of instruments. That is the case in this collection as well. The solo sonatas are for the then common instruments: recorder, transverse flute, oboe, violin and viola da gamba. However, unusual is that two solos have the form of a suite for harpsichord. The latter plays a notable role in this collection anyway: in several trios it is given an obbligato part. Telemann was one of the first composers who wrote music for an obbligato keyboard, alongside Bach, with his sonatas for keyboard and transverse flute, violin and viola da gamba respectively.

Telemann is known to have commanded almost any instrument of his time. In his autobiography he stated: "The splendid instrumentalists I met here and there gve me the desire to become more proficient on my own; in which I would have gone further, had I not been fired to acquaint myself not only with the Clavier, Violin and Flute, but also with the Hautbois, the Traverse, the Chalumeau, the Gamba etc. down to the Contrebass and the Trombone-Quint". It allowed him to explore the particular features of every instrument, also in the combination with other instruments.

Several sonatas from the Essercizii Musici regularly appear in anthologies. Two of the best-known pieces are those which open each of the two Channel Classics discs: the Sonata in g minor (TWV 42,g5) and the Sonata in c minor (TWV 42,c2). Florilegium recorded eleven of the 24 pieces; a recording of the remaining sonatas is announced in the liner-notes. As far as I know the discography includes only one recording of the entire collection, by Camerata Köln (deutsche harmonia mundi, 1996), but I don't know if that is still available. Therefore a new complete recording is certainly welcome. I have been quite critical about recordings of Florilegium, in particular their performances of German music, which I often found rather bland and dynamically flat. I am more positive about the performances here. One can have different opinions about some of the tempi; the andante from the Sonata in g minor I just mentioned, for instance, seems a bit too slow and is more like an adagio. The sonata as a whole is the least convincing part of this production, also because of a lack of dynamic differentation. However, that is the exception; there is much to enjoy here. The balance between the instruments is good, but in the pieces with obbligato harpsichord the latter is a bit underexposed. That said, I still prefer the old recording of Camerata Köln, which is a specialist in Telemann's oeuvre.

That also comes to the fore in the second production reviewed here. After having recorded the complete violin concertos, concertos for wind instruments and concertos for 'mixed instruments', CPO is going to release complete recordings of the overtures for wind instruments (the first volume is reviewed here) and the concerti da camera. The latter will include only two discs.

All the pieces included in the programme are from the section in the Telemann catalogue which is given the number 43. This part of the catalogue includes chamber music for three instruments and basso continuo. However, if one has a look at this section one will find many more pieces than can be included in two discs. The explanation is that this project focuses on one category within this section: the concerto da camera. This term is mostly used for pieces in which one instrument has a solo role, with two other instruments - usually two violins - playing the ritornellos. This was a rather common form, and we know such pieces also from the oeuvre of Vivaldi. However, in reality it is not so easy to decide which of Telemann's chamber music works falls into this category. First of all, many pieces are given different titles in various sources. Some of Telemann's compositions for this scoring are called sonata in one source, and quatuor or concerto in another. Telemann's own treatment of the form adds to the confusion. As Wolfgang Hirschmann shows in his liner-notes, sometimes the roles of 'solo' and 'ripieno' are swapped. An example is the Quartet in g minor (TWV 43,g4); in the last movement "[the] further progress of the music tends to stretch and sometimes to dissolve the boundaries between string ritornello and solo part. At the beginning of the B section we witness a sort of 'reversal of roles' as the recorder plays the ritornello while the strings adopt the solo motif". Something comparable happens in the Concerto in g minor (TWV 43,g2), in which oboe on the one hand and violin and viola da gamba on the other change roles in the second movement.

"As always with Telemann, his concerto-quartet movements cannot be boiled down to a single well-defined formula", Hirschmann writes. Telemann called it klügliches Gemenge (prudent mixture). This disc demonstrates that feature of his oeuvre. The last movement of the Quartet in g minor mentioned above, for instance, has the form of a dacapo aria: the A part is repeated literally after the B section. As in his solo concertos Telemann prefers four movements, but this quartet has three. In some pieces Telemann makes use of the form of the rondeau, a token of his great love of the French style. In some concertos the second movement has the form of a fugue, which is a reference to the Corellian sonata da chiesa.

One of the best-known pieces on this disc is the Concerto in d minor (TWV 43,d3) for transverse flute, violin, cello and bc. It has been attributed to George Frideric Handel and has been included with his name in several recordings. However, it is from Telemann's pen, despite some similarities between the opening of the first movement and the first movement from Handel's Concerto in g minor (HWV 287) for oboe. It is a quite expressive piece, especially the opening largo. However, it is certainly not the only item here that has expressive traits. Other examples are the adagio from the Concerto in g minor (TWV 43,g2) and the soave from the Quartet in G (TWV 43,G12).

That is not lost on the performers. They are all specialists in this kind of repertoire and have an intimate knowledge of Telemann's oeuvre. The features of his compositions are explored to the full here, and every player delivers fine performances of his or her part. This is a highly entertaining disc, thanks to Camerata Köln, but in the first place to Telemann, whose genius shines here as clearly as ever.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Camerata Köln

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