musica Dei donum
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Orchestral Suites"
Midori Seiler, violinbb
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
rec: Dec 1997 & May 1998a, March 2001b, Berlin-Oberschöneweide, Christus-Kirche
Harmonia mundi - HMG 508396.97 (2 CDs) (R) (© 2013) (2.30'55")
Cover & track-list
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in A 'Die Relinge' (TWV 51,A4)bb;
Ouverture jointe d'une suite tragi-comique for three trumpets, timpani, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D22)a;
Overture for two horns, two oboes and bassoon in F 'La Chasse' (TWV 55,F9)a;
Overture for four horns, two oboes, two violins and bc in F 'Alster' (TWV 55,F11)a;
Overture for strings and bc in G 'La Bizarre' (TWV 55,G2)b;
Overture for strings and bc in g minor 'La Musette' (TWV 55,g1)a;
Overture for strings and bc in B flat 'Völker-Ouvertüre' (TWV 55,B5)b;
Overture for two trumpets, timpani, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D18)b;
Unschatzbarer Vorwurf erkenntlicher Sinnen, oratorio for the anniversary of the Hamburg Admiralty (TWV 24,1) (Overture in D)a
In the last decades of the 17th century French music became increasingly popular in Germany. Composers who felt attracted to this style were called Lullistes as it was especially the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully which they admired. Some of them went to France to hear with their own ears what was played there. This resulted in the form of the overture, followed by a series of dances, being introduced at German courts which looked to Versailles for inspiration. Various composers wrote orchestral suites in the French style.
From an early age Georg Philipp Telemann was highly interested in French music. During his career he had plenty of opportunities to increase his knowledge of the French style. He once stated that his concertos for one or more solo instruments "mostly smell of France", but it is especially his contributions to the genre of the orchestral suite which bear witness to his French leanings. It is impossible to say how many he composed. More than 100 have come down to us, mostly in copies which have been preserved in the archive of the court of Darmstadt. It is reasonable to assume that many more may have existed. Some even speculate about the number of suites being around 1,000. That seems highly exaggerated, although we should not forget that Telemann was extremely productive. The number of his sacred cantatas far exceeds the thousand.
This reissue of two discs which were originally released in 1999 and 2002 respectively doesn't afford a balanced survey of Telemann's compositions in this genre. They rather focus on one aspect: music as a reflection of the social and historical context in which he lived and worked. These suites include character pieces and references to specific people or situations. Here Telemann linked up with two different traditions. On the one hand character pieces had become very popular in France, especially in keyboard music. Many examples can be found in the harpsichord oeuvre of François Couperin. On the other hand, some composers in the German-speaking world had a special liking for musical imitation of instruments, animals or situations on their violin. These two traditions come together in some of Telemann's orchestral suites. Moreover, in these works he demonstrates his often quirky sense of humour.
One of the most remarkable pieces is not an orchestral suite, but a solo concerto: the Concerto in A with the nickname Die Relinge, a word which is used in some regions in Germany for the frog. There is some doubt about Telemann's authorship, especially because of the solo part, but its content matches his sense of humour. The solo violin portrays a frog and repeatedly plays the same note, imitating the croaking of a frog. In the second movement he is joined by another frog - a kind of 'courtship of the frogs'. The nicknames of many compositions don't always refer to the complete work, but sometimes just one movement. That is the case with the Overture in G with the title La Bizarre, which refers to the rhythmic irregularity of the opening ouverture.
Telemann composed several suites in which he portrayed people from various countries. One of them is the Ouverture in B flat 'Les Nations', which includes movements such as Les Turcs, Les Suisses and Les Moscovites. In the latter case it is not so much the people which are portrayed, but rather the city. It is dominated by the ringing of the bells of the Kremlin. It is well worth noticing that Telemann does so with strings alone. Some interpreters may feel tempted to use percussion here, but not so the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. This is one of the features of musical imitation in the barioque period: composers felt challenged, for instance, to imitate a trumpet or percussion with string instruments. Suggestion is an important element in this compositional device, and using percussion would completely take away that element. It says much about Telemann's talent - and that of the interpreters - that the bell-ringing comes perfectly off here. No percussion needed.
The Overture in F with the nickname Alster was written in Hamburg; the Alster is a river which flows out into the Elbe. Here we find references to nature (the singing of swans, concerting frogs and crows), everyday events (the ringing of the bells of Hamburg, the music of the shepherds in the Alster region) and mythological elements (Pan, Peleus, Pallas). Telemann often was inspired by folk music. That is also the case in the Overture in g minor 'La Musette'. The nickname refers to the sixth movement which imitates this rural instrument. There is also a reference to the commedia dell'arte: the overture ends with a harlequinade. The Ouverture jointe d'une suite tragi-comique portrays various human physical and psychic troubles and offers rather uncommon cures.
This set also includes some more 'serious' stuff. The first disc opens with the Overture in D which has a quite stately character due to its scoring with trumpets and timpani. It is reminiscent of the music at the court in Versailles where the genre of the orchestral suite had its origin. It lends this piece a somewhat representational character as it could well reflect the status of Hamburg as a proud and prosperous city. The second disc opens in very much the same way: an overture for a secular oratorio written for the anniversary of the Hamburg Admiralty. The Ouverture in F 'La Chasse' is scored for wind instruments without strings: two oboes, two horns and bassoon. It was written for the court chapel in Darmstadt; Landgrave Ludwig VIII was a fanatical hunter.
This set can hardly fail to entertain. That is first and foremost the merit of the composer who apparently had a sharp eye for his environment and the idiosyncracies and weaknesses of human beings. He shows that he was a master in the art of musical representation. One can leave it to the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin to make the most of this repertoire. They treat the effects Telemann makes use of with distinction and resist the temptation to lay it on thick. I was a little surprised about the speed of the adagio maestoso from the opening ouverture of the Alster Overture. A more moderate tempo would have given this section a more majestic character. On the first disc I found the string playing sometimes a bit dull, lacking the brilliance which is otherwise a feature of the orchestra's sound. However, these are just small blots on a production which no lover of Telemann's music should miss.
Johan van Veen (© 2013)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin