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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): A Journey through Literature

Les Esprits Animaux

rec: April 23 - 27, 2011, Jujurieux, Espace culturel C.J. Bonnet
Éditions Ambronay - AMY302 (© 2011) (69'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Burlesque de Quixotte for strings and bc in G (TWV 55,G10); Concerto for recorder, transverse flute, strings and bc in e minor (TWV 52,e1); Concerto for two transverse flutes [recorder, flute], strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a2); Conclusion for two transverse flutes, strings and bc in e minor (TWV 50,5) [2]; Intrada, nebst burlesquer Suite for 2 violins in d 'Gulliver Suite' (TWV 40,108); Introduzzione à tre for two instruments and bc in C (TWV 42,C1) [1]

Source: [1] Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728/29; [2] Musique de table, I, 1733

Lena Franchini, recorder; Élodie Virot, transverse flute; Javier Lupiáñez, Tomoe Mihara, violin; David Alonso Molina, viola; Roberto Alonso, cello; Patricia Vintém, harpsichord

This disc is part of a project of the record company Éditions Ambronay, in collaboration with the Ambronay Festival and the European Baroque Academy, called 'Young Ensemble Series'. The ensemble which makes its debut on disc here was founded in 2009. Although none of the artists is Dutch the group is based in the Netherlands. It was not long before Les Esprits Animaux were invited to play in various countries and festivals. Listening to this disc it is easy to understand why they have enjoyed much quick success.

If an ensemble has the opportunity to make a debut album, which repertoire to choose? The players came together for the very first time to play the Concerto in e minor. So that obviously had to be on their first CD too. Then they sifted through Telemann's oeuvre and found other pieces they wanted to play. The result is a nice mixture of familiar and less familiar compositions. Telemann may be one of the most fashionable baroque composers these days but there is still a lot to find in his oeuvre which is not that well-known.

As this disc comes without a title, I have used the header of the track-list as such. It perfectly sums up what it is about: the programme centres around the connection between literature and music. Three compositions are specifically based on literature. The programme begins with one of Telemann's most popular pieces, the Burlesque de Don Quixotte, based on the famous novel of Cervantes from the early 17th century. After the usual overture we hear the awakening of Don Quixote in which the ensemble gradually increases the volume, going from piano to forte. Then Don Quixote attacks the windmills, expressed here in a fast tempo and sharp dynamic accents. Telemann makes use of Seufzer to depict Quixote's longing for princess Dulcinea. His squire Sancho Panza is then humorously portrayed, and when his donkey appears the ensemble manages to depict its bray. This piece has been frequently recorded, but it leaves much to the imagination of the performers, and that makes almost every interpretation different from others. The ensemble has taken this freedom which resulted in an entertaining performance.

In 1726 Jonathan Swift published his novel Gulliver's Travels. I have not been able to discover when it was first published in a German translation. One wonders how Telemann knew this novel, and how many music lovers in Germany were aware of what it was about. It is the basis of the Intrada, nebst burlesquer Suite in D. It is generally known as Gulliver Suite, but there is no reference to the novel in the manuscript. The connection becomes all too obvious in the titles of the various movements, though. After an intrada we hear a Lilliputsche Chaconne which must be the shortest chaconne in history: just 26 seconds. It is largely notated in hemidemisemiquavers (1/64) and quarter demisemiquavers (1/128), which suits the tiny size of the Lilliputians. The plump gigue which follows it effectively portrays the giants of Brobdingnag. Both movements are brilliantly played by the two violinists of the ensemble.

The Introduzione à tre in C is included in the collection Der getreue Music-Meister, and the scoring suggests it can be played with two instruments and bc as well as by solo instruments and ripieno. That is the way it is performed here. Again there is no reference to literature in the title of this piece. The movements do not refer to a specific piece of literature, but rather portray various female characters from antique writings. After the opening introduction we meet Xanthippe, the wife of the Greek philosopher Socrates and known for her bad temper. Then follow Lucretia, who killed herself in order to protect her purity, and Corinna, a Greek poet of the 6th century B.C. She is followed by Cloelia, a hero during the war between Rome and Clusium, also in the 6th century B.C. Lastly Dido is portrayed: the character indication is triste, but in fact this movement is a sequence of slow and fast episodes, separated by pauses, expressing Dido's sadness and anger respectively. Telemann needs a little more than two minutes for that: a whole opera in a nutshell.

In his liner-notes Javier Lupiáñez underlines that music was considered a language in the baroque era. Even instrumental pieces with no literary references tell a story. For this reason the other compositions on this disc are not that far away from these three literature-inspired works. That is certainly the case in the Concerto in e minor in which the recorder and the transverse flute are developed in a dialogue, which is eloquently demonstrated in the performance as well as the recording. The largo is given an intimate reading, whereas the folkloristic character of the closing presto is performed with much creativity. The Concerto in a minor was originally scored for two transverse flutes; here one of the parts is played on the recorder.

I have already indicated that I am pleased with this recording. In fact, I believe that this ensemble could hardly have made a better debut. In the familiar pieces it shows that it is well up to the competition. The programme also bears witness to their willingness to look for the less obvious. The combination of creative programming, technical maturity and musical persuasiveness makes this a promising debut.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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