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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Trios & Concerto"

La Primavera

rec: November 2 - 4, 2005, Hamont-Achel, Achelse Kluis
Et'cetera - KTC 1312 (© 2006) (67'58")

Concerto (Quatuor) for recorder, oboe, violin and bc in a minor (TWV 43,a3); Sonata for recorder, harpsichord and bc in B flat (TWV 42,B4) [1]; Sonata for recorder, oboe and bc in a minor (TWV 42,a6); Sonata for recorder, violin and bc in f minor (TWV 42,f2); Sonata for viola da gamba, harpsichord and bc in G (TWV 42,G6) [1]; Sonata for viola da gamba, recorder and bc in F (TWV 42,F3) [1]; Sonata for violin, recorder and bc in a minor (TWV 42,a4) [1]

[1] Essercizii Musici, 1739/40

Clémence Comte, recorder; Peter Frankenberg oboe; Igor Roukhadze, violin; Maaike Boekholt, viola da gamba; Sarah Walder, viola da gamba, cello; Regina Albanez, theorbo; Menno van Delft, harpsichord

Georg Philipp Telemann was Germany's most prolific composer of the first half of the 18th century. The main part of his life he was active in Hamburg, a centre of trade and culture, and during the second quarter of the century developing into a centre of German enlightenment. Telemann was as dynamic as the city he served. During his career as a composer he showed a versatile mind in the many compositional forms he made use of. The popular image of Telemann as a composer of easy-listening music is far beside the truth. He was certainly able to write polyphonic pieces, but he deliberately aimed at reaching as wide an audience as possible. On the one hand this is a feature of the time, in which music was written in honour of God but also to serve one's neighbour. In this respect there was no difference between Telemann and his friend Bach. On the other hand this objective also shows the increasing importance of the bourgeoisie as purchasers of music which they performed at home or in social gatherings. And Telemann's music shows the development of popular taste, as he started to write in the traditional style of the baroque, but also made use of the galant style and leaned towards early classicism at the end of his life. Telemann once stated that "it is always pleasant to do something new". Apparently it was this which kept him going and made him Germany's most creative composer until the very end of his long life.

One of the features of Telemann's oeuvre is the large variety of instruments and combinations of instruments he composed for. This can be explained from the fact that he had a thorough knowledge of many instruments. "The splendid instrumentalists I met here and there gave 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 keyboard, violin and recorder, but also with the oboe, the transverse flute, the chalumeau, the viola da gamba etc down to the double bass and the quint-trombone". The collection Essercizii Musici appeared in 1739/40 and contains sonatas for a solo instrument as well as trios for two obligato instruments, both with basso continuo. In particular the trios, four of which have been recorded by La Primavera, show a great variety of instrumental combinations. Most remarkable are the trios in which the harpsichord is acting as an obbligato instrument, without replacing the basso continuo. In this recording the bass part in these trios is played by the theorbo (with an additional string bass). Also unusual is the combination of a descant and a bass instrument, like recorder and viola da gamba.

The common prejudice Telemann wasn't interested in polyphony is clearly refuted by the compositions in this collection. Several movements are dominated by polyphony, like in the Trio in f minor and the Trio in a minor. Another example is the allegro from the Sonata in G, which is also notable for its harmony. In the booklet the theorist Johann Adolf Scheibe is quoted as writing: "I found intervals that were often unusual in the compositions of this great man (…). They were employed by Telemann with the greatest possible grace and in such an expressive and touching manner that was so entirely suited to the emotions he wished to convey that one could not blame him without blaming Nature itself". This quote reveals both the esthetics of the time and Telemann's compositional objectives. He was devoted to the affetti which were a prominent feature of the of the baroque era, and which were not seen as something artificial, but as something completely natural. Therefore the ideal of a 'natural' style of composing which gained ground during the second quarter of the 18th century didn't mean the use of affetti got out of fashion. This quote also proves that Telemann didn’t merely compose to please the ear, but also to move the players and the audience.

The ensemble La Primavera has made a good choice from the Essercizii musici and added two other pieces. This results in a nice variety of instrumental combinations and musical forms. It is a shame the performances are not more than mediocre. The notes are treated with little differentiation: the diversity of 'good' and 'bad' notes is largely ignored, and there is a lack of dynamic shades. It is in particular in this respect where Camerata Köln's interpretation stands out. A stronger sense of rhythm and the use of dynamic accents make the slow movements sway softly and the faster movements swing. The tempi in Camerata Köln's recording are also more convincing: the fast movements in La Primavera's performance are often too slow. The players are not very generous in regard to ornamentation: whole phrases are played without a single ornament. Lastly I don’t like the sound of the violin, which I find often harsh and lackling subtlety. The pieces with viola da gamba as an obbligato instrument fare best, thanks to the playing of Maaike Boekholt.

In short, this fine music isn't done really justice here. The recording by Camerata Köln (deutsche harmonia mundi) is superior in every respect. As far as I know it is only available as set of four discs, but I can assure you the quality of music and performance is such that you won’t regret buying it.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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