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"Corellisante: Sonatas for Two Violins & Basso Continuo by Corelli & Telemann"

rec: May 21 - 24, 2003, Troy, N.Y., Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Dorian - DSL-90703 (© 2007) (68'08")

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713): Sonata in G, op. 1,9 [1]; Sonata in C, op. 3,8 [2]; Sonata in A, op. 3,12 [2]; Sonata in E, op. 4,6 [3]; Sonata in G, op. 4,10 [3]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Sonate corellisante I in F (TWV 42,F2) [4]; Sonate corellisante II in A (TWV 42,A5) [4]; Sonate corellisante III in b minor (TWV 42,h3) [4]; Sonate corellisante V in g minor (TWV 42,g2) [4]

(Sources: [1] Arcangelo Corelli, Sonate a tre, op. 1, 1681; [2] Sonate a tre, op. 3, 1689; [3] Sonate a tre, op. 4, 1694; [4] Georg Philipp Telemann, Sonates corellisantes, 1735)

Jörg-Michael Schwarz, Karen Marmer, violin; John Moran, cello; Daniel Swenberg, lute, theorbo, chalcedon; Dongsok Shin, harpsichord

Georg Philipp Telemann was by far the most famous and celebrated composer of his time in Germany. When he was rediscovered in the 20th century, his reputation was somewhat damaged by being compared to Johann Sebastian Bach. His music was considered light-weight and a bit superficial and easy in comparison to the oeuvre of the great Bach. It is mainly his chamber music which was frequently played, most of which Telemann specifically composed for the bourgeoisie. During the first half of the 18th century the bourgeoisie started to play an increasingly important role in public life. And as many of them were playing an instrument there was a growing demand of music which was technically not too complicated. And that is exactly what Telemann was willing to deliver.

But there is much more to Telemann than this kind of music. Gradually his sacred music has been rediscovered, his orchestral suites nowadays belong to the standard repertoire of baroque orchestras and there is also a growing interest in his operas. Even in his chamber music there is still something to discover, as this disc testifies.

The Sonates corellisantes were published in 1735 in Hamburg. As usual Telemann took the job of printing and selling into his own hand. He had agents in several German cities who took care of the distribution and checked whether pirate editions were printed. In 1737 an edition was printed in Paris, though, by the publisher Le Clerc. Whether this was an unauthorised edition is not quite clear.

There is also some uncertainty in regard to the scoring. Although written for two violins with basso continuo, Telemann offered the alternative of two transverse flutes for the two upper parts. But in the programme notes John Moran states: "If, however, Telemann's aim was really to imitate Corelli, the option of performance with flutes would have been given more for commercial than artistic reasons." But did Telemann really want to imitate Corelli? That is very unlikely, as Moran recognizes later on: "For every passage reminiscent of Corelli, Telemann writes many more which are not". And indeed, listening to these sonatas one realises that Corelli's music was merely the starting point, from which Telemann developed his own style. It was mainly the form of Corelli's sonatas Telemann made use of: the sonata da camera (Sonata II in A) and the sonata da chiesa (Sonata V in g minor). This, by the way, was certainly not the first time he did so. In chamber music Telemann had written earlier - between roughly 1715 and 1725 - he had already adopted these forms. Another reason to take the suggestion of an alternative scoring seriously is that Telemann avoids going below the bottom D of the transverse flute.

In this recording the sonatas are performed with violins. This, and the alternation with sonatas by Corelli, underlines both the similarities and the differences. One thing which striked me while listening to these sonatas is that, although Telemann was aiming at mixing the style of Corelli with elements of the more fashionable styles of his days, the presence of 'old-fashioned' elements is quite strong. I refer here especially to the use of counterpoint - much more prominent than in his other works of this time - and the use of sometimes remarkable harmonies.

It may be true that Telemann's harmonies are more varied than Corelli's, as John Moran writes. But Corelli certainly didn't avoid strong dissonances now and then. In their performances Rebel give much attention to the harmonic tension in Corelli's sonatas, and as a result their interpretations are more expressive than many others. An eyewitness of Corelli's playing wrote: "I never met with any man that suffered his passions to hurry him away so much whilst he was playing on the violin as the famous Arcangelo Corelli, whose eyes will sometimes turn as red as fire; his countenance will be distorted, his eyeballs roll as in agony, and he gives in so much to what he is doing that he doth not look like the same man." This is well reflected in the fiery playing of this ensemble. The interpretations of Telemann's sonatas are just as passionate and bold, sometimes on the verge of being brutal. Now and then I felt they just go a bit too far, for instance in the sarabande of Telemann's Sonata II in A, which is too abrasive and lacks the expression the indication of 'grave' suggests. But overall I am quite happy with these performances which go against the prejudice that the music of both composers should first and foremost just please the ear.

This disc is a tribute to the art of Telemann, as it shows there is more to him than one may think. It is also his - and Rebel's - tribute to Corelli who appealed to later generations and had a lasting influence on the course of music history.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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