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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Overtures & concertos

[I] "A Tribute to Telemann"
La Spagna
Dir: Alejandro Marías
rec: July 2017, Madrid, Fundación Juan March
Lukos Records - 5451CRE80843 (© 2017) (71'39")
Liner-notes: E/ES
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a1)ad; Concerto for viola da gamba, strings and bc in A (TWV 51,A5)d; Concerto for 2 violins, strings and bc in G (TWV 52,G1)bc; Overture for strings and bc in G 'Burlesque de Quixotte' (TWV 55,G10); Overture for viola da gamba, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D6)d

Alvaro Marías, recordera; Pablo Gutiérrezb, Irene Benitoc, Beatriz Amezúa, Ma Mar Blasco, Abelardo Martín, Marta Mayoral, Adrián Pineda, violin; Roldán Bernabé, violin, viola; Rosa San Martín, viola; Alejandro Marías, viola da gambad, cello; Pablo Garrído, cello; Silvia Giménez, double bass; Jordan Furnadó, harpsichord

[II] "The double concertos with recorder"
Erik Bosgraaf, Yi-Chang Lianga, recorder; Anna Besson, transverse fluteb; Robert Smith, viola da gambac
Ensemble Cordevento
Dir: Erik Bosgraaf
rec: August 2015, Burgum (NL), Kruiskerk
Brilliant Classics - 95249 (© 2016) (63'14")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for recorder, bassoon, strings and bc in F (TWV 52,F1)d; Concerto for recorder, transverse flute, strings and bc in e minor (TWV 52,e1)b; Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a1)c; Concerto for 2 recorders, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a2)a; Concerto for 2 recorders, strings and bc in B flat (TWV 52,B1)a

Zefira Valova, Evgeny Sviridov, Anna Dmitrieva, Ivan Iliev, Tomoe Badiarova, violin; Zdenka Prochazkova, Femke Huizinga, viola; Linda Mantcheva, Heidi Peltoniemi, cello; Tomoki Sumiya, double bass; Marije van der Ende, bassoon (solod); Yavor Genov, chitarrone, guitar; Alessandro Pianu, harpsichord


Georg Philipp Telemann was the most versatile and prolific composer of his time in Germany. He contributed to nearly all musical genres, but treated them with considerable freedom, both in structure and in scoring. The discs under review here attest to that.

The ensemble La Spagna recorded a programme with specimens of two different genres: the orchestral suite and the concerto for solo instrument(s). Telemann was a great lover of the French style, and therefore felt strongly attracted to one of its main forms of instrumental music, the orchestral suite or ouverture. This had its roots in French opera, especially the tragedies of Jean-Baptiste Lully. Several German composers embraced this genre, such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Friedrich Fasch and Telemann. The basic form was an ouverture in three sections (ABA), followed by a number of dances. The standard scoring was for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo. However, Telemann would not be Telemann, if he would strictly adhere to this model.

La Spagna opens its programme with one of his idiosyncracies: an orchestral suite with a solo part for the viola da gamba. It is one of several suites with a solo part for a single instrument. The best-known of them is the Overture in a minor for recorder, strings and basso continuo. A look at the movements of this suite reveals that Telemann was also independent in his choice of pieces as well as their order. The second movement is a character piece, called La Trompette, which unevitably includes fanfare motifs. It is followed by a sarabande, a piece which was usually placed between courante and gigue; the latter close this suite. Before we also get a rondeau, a kind of piece which became increasingly popular in France in Telemann's time.

The disc ends with another orchestral overture of a special kind. The Ouverture in G, called Burlesque de Quixotte, is a kind of stage music, although probably not intended for a performance in the theatre. But the way Telemann portrays the famous story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza shows that he had quite some theatrical instict, which he had already proved, when he composed music for the Leipzig opera, and would prove again in his activities for the opera at the Gänsemarkt in Hamburg. It is impressive what he is able to achieve with just strings and basso continuo.

In his Overture for viola da gamba just mentioned, Telemann mixes the French form of the orchestral overture with the Italian form of the solo concerto. Although he felt some distance to the Italian style, and in particular the virtuosity often associated with it, he composed a large number of concertos, often for more than one instrument. He had a special liking for unconventional combinations of instruments, and that comes to the fore in the Concerto in a minor for recorder and viola da gamba. It is remarkable that Telemann, who is generally considered a 'modern' composer, receptive to the fashions of his time, gave so much attention to two instruments which were in the process of becoming obsolete. That is confirmed by the Concerto in A for viola da gamba, strings and basso continuo. It is notable that both concertos are in four movements. Although Telemann did sometimes adopt the model of the Vivaldian concerto in three movements, he had a general preference for the older four-movement type.

Lastly, La Spagna plays the Concerto in G which is presented here as a concerto grosso. However, in the catalogue of Telemann's oeuvre it is ranked among the concertos with two solo instruments. It is played here in a kind of arrangement. "Although it is true that the manuscript shows two lines for solo violins and only one line for violin tutti, we decided to write a second line for violin tutti in order that every soloist has their [sic] own ripieno, as is habitual in the concerti grossi". I find this regrettable: one of the features of Telemann is his freedom in the treatment of established forms, and this concerto seems an example of that. The addition of a second violin part in the tutti makes it more 'conventional', so to speak, and that is exactly what one should not do with Telemann.

That said, I have very much enjoyed these performances. They are certainly not smoothed down, as the sound of the ensemble and the viola da gamba as a solo instrument have some sharp edges. I consider that one of this disc's assets rather than a point of criticism. Too often we hear conventional performances of baroque instrumental music. The Burlesque de Quixotte receives an evocative and theatrical performance. The solos are played very nicely. If there is one issue - apart from the 'arrangement' of the Concerto in G - it is the acoustic: there is too much reverberation, and I would have liked a more intimate atmosphere in this repertoire.

This disc does not include anything that is not available on disc already. But true Telemann lovers like to have various performances in their collection, and this disc will certainly be a worthy addition.

The second disc attests to Telemann's preference of the four-movement concerto: all the concertos recorded by Erik Bosgraaf and his Ensemble Cordevento are of this type. Here we also meet unconventional combinations of instruments. Apart from the Concerto in a minor for recorder and viola da gamba, which is also part of La Spagna's recording, we have here the Concerto in F for recorder and bassoon. The latter was a rather unusual instrument: in Germany very few concertos or sonatas for the bassoon were written. As so many pieces by Telemann, this work has come down to us as part of the library of the court orchestra in Darmstadt, which in Telemann's time was under the direction of Christoph Graupner. The latter had a brilliant bassoonist in his ranks, Johann Ludwig Brauer, for whom he composed four virtuosic solo concertos, and it seems likely that he also copied this double concerto by Telemann for him. The two instruments are very different in character, but Telemann treats them on strictly equal terms and creates a remarkable interplay between them. The third movement has the character of an opera aria. This is one of the most 'Italianate' of concertos.

Other concertos are written in a mixture of the Italian and the French style. Telemann was a great admirer of the latter, and once stated that his concertos "smell of France". That is certainly the case with the Concerto in a minor for two recorders, whose four movements have French titles. The first two seem to refer to the French overture; the opening gravement is in dotted rhythm. The last movement is called vivement, but is in fact a passepied. The Concerto in B flat with the same scoring is a mixture of French and Italian elements: the first two movements have Italian titles, the last two are in French.

The programme opens with the Concerto in e minor for recorder and transverse flute, which is by far Telemann's most popular concerto with solo instruments. That is largely due to the last movement, called presto, which has the form of a polonaise en rondeau. Here we meet Telemann's predilection for Polish folk music in full glory. This concerto also attests to Telemann's combination of old and new: the recorder as a representative of the past, especially the 17th century, and the transverse flute as the instrument which became increasingly fashionable in his days.

This disc offers the complete double concertos with recorder, and clearly centres around Erik Bosgraaf, a brilliant and virtuosic player. Sometimes he goes a little overboard, playing at breakneck speed and with an overflow of ornamentation. Not so here: he behaves quite well, and as a result these are compelling and stylistically convincing performances of some of Telemann's best works. His colleagues are every inch his equals. The ensemble is also excellent in the tutti sections. This disc has to be ranked among the best in the category of Telemann concertos.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Erik Bosgraaf
Li-Chang Liang
Robert Smith
La Spagna

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