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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): 12 Fantaisies pour la Basse de Violle (TWV 40,26-37)

Thomas Fritzsch, viola da gamba

rec: Oct 12 - 14 & Nov 16 - 18, 2015, Zscheiplitz, Klosterkirche
Coviello Classics - COV 91601 ( 2016) (84'46")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores

Fantasia No. 1 in c minor (TWV 40,26); Fantasia No. 2 in D (TWV 40,27); Fantasia No. 3 in e minor (TWV 40,28); Fantasia No. 4 in F (TWV 40,29); Fantasia No. 5 in B flat (TWV 40,30); Fantasia No. 6 in G (TWV 40,31); Fantasia No. 7 in g minor (TWV 40,32); Fantasia No. 8 in A (TWV 40,33); Fantasia No. 9 in C (TWV 40,34); Fantasia No. 10 in E (TWV 40,35); Fantasia No. 11 in d minor (TWV 40,36); Fantasia No. 12 in E flat (TWV 40,37)

Georg Philipp Telemann was the most famous composer of his time in Germany and he was also the most prolific and the most versatile. There is no genre to which he did not contribute and there is hardly any instrument for which he did not compose some music. The viola da gamba takes a remarkably prominent position in his oeuvre. Only recently Brilliant Classics released a set of five discs with his complete trio sonatas and concertos with a part for the viola da gamba. In addition we have a number of quartets, the best-known of which are the so-called 'Paris' quartets, and some pieces for viola da gamba and bc. The present disc includes twelve fantasias for viola da gamba without accompaniment, which for a long time were thought to be lost. They have been rediscovered recently by Thomas Fritzsch, who was also the first to record them.

These twelve fantasias were part of a series of four for different instruments which Telemann published between 1732 and 1735. In 1732/33 a set of twelve fantasias for the transverse flute were printed. This was followed in 1735 by twelve fantasias for violin and for viola da gamba respectively as well as three sets of twelve fantasias each for the harpsichord. Telemann published these works himself, as he did so often. This could well be the reason that the fantasias for the viola da gamba could be published. As Thomas Fritzsch observes in his liner-notes, music for the viola da gamba had become almost unsaleable. If Telemann had been dependent on commercial publishers these fantasias may have never seen daylight.

At the time these were printed the viola da gamba was in the process of being overshadowed by the cello. As Telemann is generally considered someone who kept pace with the fashions of his time one wonders why he paid to much attention to the viola da gamba. One reason must have been that he figured that the viola da gamba was still widely disseminated, especially among amateurs. Another reason seems to be his great appreciation of the French style. Although he included Italian elements in his compositions, he generally preferred the French taste, and the viola da gamba was, probably more than anything else, the symbol of everything French. The technical level of these fantasias shows that he had a thorough knowledge of the playing techniques of the viola da gamba. Fritzsch asks: "Had Telemann perhaps gained greater mastery of the viola da gamba than the modest statements in his autobiographies have led us to assume?"

There is another interesting French connection here. In his notes about the historical background Carsten Lange mentions that these fantasias were dedicated to the Hamburg banker and businessman Pierre Chaunel. He was the son of Huguenot immigrants from Montpellier who had fled France because of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which put them in danger of being persecuted. Chaunel himself was born in Altona which included a strong French Reformed congregation. He was an important man in Hamburg; in 1736 he was the city's largest importer. He must have been pretty close to Telemann. It is known that he had purchased several of his compositions and he also was one of the subscribers to the collections Musique de table and the 'Paris' quartets of 1738.

It is not only the fact that Telemann composed for the viola da gamba at the time the instrument was going out of fashion which is remarkable. The same goes for the way he treats it. This was the time that music lovers came under the spell of the galant idiom. These fantasias certainly show traits of this fashion but many include a considerable amount of counterpoint, something one expects in pieces by Bach rather than Telemann. Several fantasias include fugal movements, one has a canonical imitative movement and even those fantasias which are largely in the galant idiom include episodes with double stopping. Many phrases close with a couple of chords and double stopping is frequently used in cadenzas. Remember that this is the period in which Johann Mattheson and others declared that melody rather than counterpoint was the foundation of music.

Fritzsch mentions the fact that every fantasia is in a different key. "From twelve possible semitone intervals (with harmonic inversion), he bases individual movements, sections or whole fantasias on each degree (except the ninth G#/Ab) as the keynote of a major and/or minor key. This variety surpasses even that encountered in his similar works for flute and violin, and attests to a methodical approach." The texture is different: the two first fantasias comprise two movements, the first of which are divided into several sections: ABAB and ABA respectively. All the other fantasias consist of three movements, either in the order fast - slow - fast or slow - fast - fast. Some movements are very short, not more than a transition between two fast movements. That is the case, for instance, with the grave from the Fantasia No. 4 which has a strongly improvisatory character. The Fantasia No. 5 opens with an allegro which one could easily take for a prelude from one of Bach's cello suites. The Fantasia No. 10 ends with a brilliant scherzando.

This is a most fascinating recording of twelve excellent pieces for the viola da gamba. The importance of their rediscovery cannot be overstated. They constitute a major addition to the repertoire. Thomas Fritzsch's technical brilliance and his engaging interpretation do them full justice. These are gestural, sometimes playful, sometimes theatrical performances which make one wanting to return to them on a regular basis.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

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