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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Chamber music treasures from Dresden and Darmstadt"

Les Esprits Animaux

rec: April 25 - 28, Uitwijk Waardhuizen (NL), Protestantse Kerk
Musica Ficta - MF8029 (© 2018) (64'13")
Liner-notes: E/F/ES
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto à 4 in d minor (TWV 43,d2); Concerto à 4 in G (TWV 43,G8); Concerto alla Polonese in G (TWV 43,G37); Concerto in D (TWV deest); Concerto in B flat (TWV deest); Intrada à 4 in d minor (TWV 43,d2)

Elodie Virot, transverse flute; Javier Lupiáñez, Tomoe Badiarova, violin; David Alonso Molina, viola; Roberto Alonso Álvarez, cello; Patricia Vintém, harpsichord

Whereas many composers wrote trio sonatas, only a few turned to the form of the quartet. This genre was considered the ultimate proof of a composer's mastery of counterpoint. In his treatise Versuch einer Anleitung, die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, Johann Joachim Quantz described the quartet as a sonata with three concertante instruments and a bass line that is "at the same time the touchstone of an authentic contrapuntist and also a real pitfall for a musician lacking experience and compositional skills". In his view Telemann was a specimen of the first category. His quartets could be used "as excellent models for this type of music".

Telemann's oeuvre includes a considerable number of quartets; the catalogue of his works includes more than 60 extant pieces of this kind, and to them one has to add the pieces which are known to have existed, but which have been lost. They appear under different titles: quatuor, sonate and concerto. The scoring is also different, such as transverse flute, violin and viola da gamba, transverse flute, viola da gamba and bassoon or two violins and horn - to mention only a few.

The ensemble Les Esprits Animaux recorded a programme of quartets for two different scorings: transverse flute, violin and cello or two violins and viola, both with basso continuo. Although Telemann's quartets are quite popular with baroque ensembles these days, many confine themselves to the famous so-called 'Paris' quartets and some other well-known pieces. Les Esprits Animaux turned to lesser-known stuff, including two quartets which are not in the catalogue of Telemann's works and whose authenticity is not established as yet.

As one may expect from Telemann, the various quartets are quite different in character. From 1705 to 1708 Telemann was in the service of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz at Sorau, Lower Lusatia (now Zary, in Poland). Here he became acquainted with Polish folk music, which had a lasting influence on his development as a composer. The Concerto alla Polonese in G, one of two concertos of this title (the other is in B flat), attests to that. The opening dolce is a polonaise, the third movement (largo) is a mazurka. There are imitations of Hanakian music in the second movement (the Hanakian are a Moravian people which Telemann encountered in southern Poland) and drone-like effects.

This piece is for two violins, viola and basso continuo, and could also be played in a larger line-up. The Concerto à 4 in G (TWV 43,G8) is for the same scoring. It has been preserved in the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek in Darmstadt and dates from around 1716. At that time Telemann worked in nearby Frankfurt, and was in regular contact with Christoph Graupner, who was Kapellmeister at the court in Darmstadt. Graupner often copied compositions by Telemann; most of the latter's overtures have come down to us in copies by Graupner or one of his assistents. This concerto is a short piece in four movements; the opening adagio is notable for its treatment of harmony. The third work for strings is the Concerto à 4 in d minor, which is in four movements. Again the slow movements stand out for their harmonic development, whereas the fast movements are energetic and have a marked rhythmic pulse.

The two pieces which have come down to us without the name of the composer, are scored for transverse flute, violin, cello and basso continuo. The role of the cello is probably the most remarkable aspect of these quartets, as this instrument doesn't figure that prominently in Telemann's oeuvre, if one compares it with the viola da gamba. In the Concerto in D the cello plays a prominent part in the opening intrada, whereas in the last movement the menuet is paired with a duetto for cello and basso continuo. The structure of this concerto - intrada, aria, gavotte, menuet and duetto - is unusual; one could call it a hybrid piece in that it mixes elements of the concerto and the suite. The Concerto in B flat is much more conventional in this regard, as it comprises three movements: a fast movement without tempo indication (played here as an allegro), adagio and allegro. Here the cello comes forward in the opening movement.

The remaining piece, the Intrada in D, is different in that it is scored for transverse flute, violin and basso continuo. However, it has little to do with the traditional trio sonata. In fact, it is rather a suite: its five movements are called intrada, tournée, aria, menuet and balletto. Influences of folk music manifest themselves in the tournée and the balletto, whereas the menuet's trio includes some chromaticism. The aria is for flute and basso continuo; here the violin keeps silent, whereas elsewhere its part includes some double stopping.

Les Esprits Animaux like Telemann. They devoted their debut disc to him, and with this programme, which I heard them play live in 2017, they return to his oeuvre once again. Like the first disc, it is a model of creative programming as most pieces are not often performed, if at all. They perform them with infectious enthusiasm. This is one of best Telemann discs I have heard recently. The ensemble is impeccable, and the solo parts for flute, violin and cello are excellently executed. I like the ornamentation, for instance in the Concerto alla Polonese. The tempi are generally well chosen. Only the closing movement of the Concerto à 4 in G may be a bit too fast, considering its tempo indication allegro ma non presto.

The liner-notes could have done with some critical proof-reading. The Christian name of Graupner is not Johann Christoph, but just Christoph. And he was not, as Javier Lupiàñez states, Bach's predecessor in Leipzig. He was invited to succeed Johann Kuhnau as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, but his employer did not let him go.

This disc proves that, although Telemann's music is very popular these days and is often performed and recorded, it is still possible to find unknown treasures in his large output.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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