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CD reviews

Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Fantasias and sonatas for recorder

[I] "12 Fantasias 12 Recorders"
Simon Borutzki, recorder
rec: Oct 14 - 16, 2013, Berlin-Wannsee, Andreaskirche
Klanglogo - KL1509 (© 2014) (52'31")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Fantasia I in A (TWV 40,2); Fantasia II in a minor (TWV 40,3); Fantasia III in b minor (TWV 40,4); Fantasia IV in B flat (TWV 40,5); Fantasia V in C (TWV 40,6); Fantasia VI in d minor (TWV 40,7); Fantasia VII in D (TWV 40,8); Fantasia VIII in e minor (TWV 40,9); Fantasia IX in E (TWV 40,10); Fantasia X in f sharp minor (TWV 40,11); Fantasia XI in G (TWV 40,12); Fantasia XII in g minor (TWV 40,13)

[II] "Complete Recorder Sonatas"
Michala Petri, recorder; Anthony Newman, harpsichord
rec: Feb 15, 2913, Bedford, NY, St Matthew's Church
OUR Recordings - 8.226909 (© 2013) (44'39")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Sonata for recorder and bc in C (TWV 41,C2) [1]; Sonata for recorder and bc in C (TWV 41,C5) [2]; Sonaat for recorder and bc in d minor (TWV 41,d4) [2]; Sonata for recorder and bc in F (TWV 41,F2) [1]; Sonata for recorder and bc in B flat (TWV 41,B3) [1]; Sonata for recorder/bassoon and bc in f minor (TWV 41,f1) [1]

Sources: [1] Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728/29; [2] Essercizii Musici, 1739/40

Recorder players often turn to Georg Philipp Telemann as he has provided them with some fine music. However, the number of pieces explicitly written for the recorder is rather limited: Michala Petri plays them all, and there are no more than six. That is to say: sonatas in which the recorder is on its own, only supported by basso continuo. The repertoire for recorder is much larger if we include pieces for an ensemble of various instruments, for instance trio sonatas. In the collection Essercizii Musici we find two solo sonatas, but also sonatas in which the recorder is joined by the oboe, the violin, the viola da gamba or an obbligato harpsichord. Telemann also included the recorder in concertos and orchestral overtures. In his time the recorder gradually fell out of grace, but he still gave recorder players - especially the amateurs of his days - much to enjoy.

One of the most popular collections among recorder players are the twelve fantasias without basso continuo. However, these are not intended for the recorder. They have been preserved in a manuscript which is kept in the library of the Brussels conservatoire. The title says that they are for the violin, but that seems an adaptation - or an error - of someone else. Stylistically they don't suggest the violin as the intended instrument. It is generally assumed that these are the fantasias for transverse flute which Telemann referred to in his autobiography of 1740.

They are the first compositions for a solo instrument without accompaniment from his pen. They reflect his preference for the mixed style: the mingling of French, Italian and German elements. He shared this preference with many of his colleagues, but in his case one should add another element: folk music. In his early years he became acquainted with the traditional music from Poland and Bohemia, and that left an indelible impression on him. Time and again he would include motifs from traditional music into his sonatas, concertos and overtures. Telemann also made use of different textures. Some fantasias follow the model of the Corellian sonata, but others have just two movements, although sometimes divided into sub-sections. The opening movement of the Fantasia VII in D is a French overture (ABABA). The closing presto from the Fantasia XII in g minor is in ABA form, and the B section includes some imitation of birdsong.

That comes off perfectly in Simon Borutzki's performance which is highly differentiated. That is partly due to the fact that he uses twelve different recorders; that will probably be of special interest for those who play the recorder themselves, and those who have an intimate knowledge of the instrument. For the general music-lover the differentiation in Borutzki's playing will be of more importance. These pieces are pretty well-known and exist in various recordings. Only recently I reviewed several recent releases. Borutzki's interpretation has to be ranked among the very best.

The repertoire for the recorder from Telemann's pen can even be further expanded with the pieces which were explicitly or implicitly suitable for various instruments. One of the sonatas which Michala Petri has chosen is an example of such a piece: the Sonata in f minor from Der getreue Music-Meister is scored for recorder or bassoon. Telemann's main goal was to write good and technically not too difficult music for the growing market of amateurs, and to that end he often avoided features which would prevent a performance on a then common instrument.

Although she is a pretty famous performer Michala Petri has largely avoided the scene of historical performance practice. A rare exception was the participation in a recording of the German ensemble Musica antiqua Köln. This disc bears witness to her completely different approach to baroque music. She doesn't use copies of historical instruments - at least there is no reference to historical models of the instruments she plays here -, and she avoids a rhetorical, speech-like style of playing. Her performance on the present disc is very straightforward, without dynamic accents or a differentiation between good and bad notes. In the allegro from the Sonata in f minor (TWV 41,f1) there are sometimes not even breathing spaces between phrases. It just goes on and on. Ms Petri's playing is virtuosic and brilliant, but also mechanical. If a robot would play this music, I doubt one would hear any difference.

About the Sonata in d minor (TWV 41,d4) the liner-notes say that "[the] opening Affettuoso with its angular melodies and chromatic harmonies, and sudden dynamic contrasts from pp to f exhibit Telemann's mastery of the thoroughly modern Empfindsamer Stil, (lit. 'Sensitive Style')." The said dynamic contrasts are severely underexposed, and I have heard very little sensitivity and 'affection'. The larghetto from the Sonata in C (TWV 41,C5) "evokes a sense of Baroque pathos through its use of melodies ending with a rising minor second". But Ms Petri's playing is devoid of any pathos; it is as mechanical as ever.

Anthony Newman plays a copy of the Hass harpsichord of 1730 which has three manuals and a 16' stop. He employs the latter on several occasions, but it has little impact as the harpsichord is too much in the background.

There can be no doubt of Michala Petri's technical skills, but her interpretation fails to do any justice to the Affekte which are an essential feature of baroque music. In fact, she reduces Telemann's sonatas to harmless trifles. Because of that this disc one of the worst I have heard for some time.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Simon Borutzki
Anthony Newman
Michala Petri

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