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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Orchestral and chamber music for recorder

Julien Martin, recordera; Josh Cheatham, viola da gambab
Capriccio Stravagantec
Dir: Skip Sempé

rec: 2005
Paradizo – PA0002 (© 2006) (61'19")

Concerto for recorder, viola da gamba, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 52,a1)abc; Fantasia in e minor (TWV 40,9)a; Fantasia in A (TWV 40,2)a; Fantasia in b minor (TWV 40,4)a; Overture for recorder, strings and bc in a minor (TWV 55,a2)ac

Sophie Gent, violin; Tuomi Suni, violin, viola; Marta Paramo, viola; Emily Robinson, Jean-Christoph Marq, cello; Josh Cheatham, viola da gamba; Benoit Vanden Bemden, double bass; Skip Sempé, harpsichord; Olivier Fortin, harpsichord, organ

It is interesting to note how differently Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann treated the recorder. In their time it was gradually put into the sidelines by the transverse flute. But whereas Bach never wrote any piece of chamber music – as far as we know now – with a part for the recorder, Telemann used the instrument frequently, and must have been very fond of it. In his orchestral and chamber music, but also in his vocal works the recorder frequently appears, and Telemann, who played the instrument himself, shows an intimate knowledge of its characteristics, and makes full use of them.

The Overture in a minor is one of the most popular of all Telemann's overtures, and he certainly wrote a lot of them: about 200, a number of which have not been preserved. In most of the overtures – the name derives from the first movement – the instruments are treated equally, but in some one or a couple of instruments are given a solo part, which links them to the solo concerto. As the names of the movements – both character pieces, like 'Les Plaisirs' and 'air à l'italien', and dances (réjouissance, passepied) – suggest this overture in particular shows the influence of the French style.

The Concerto in a minor reflects rather the Italian style. Telemann wrote a pretty large number of concertos (more than 100), but they were not as popular as his overtures or his chamber music. Contemporaries who admired Telemann for these products of his talent didn't mention his concertos at all. And even Telemann himself doesn't seem to have valued them very much: "For variety, to revive the spirit, I also turned my hand to writing concertos. But I must confess that my heart was never completely in them, though I wrote a fair number". This concerto combines two instruments which Telemann also used more than once in his chamber music. In the first half of the 18th century the viola da gamba was still the predominant low string instrument, whereas in France it was already being overshadowed by the cello. In his concertos Telemann mostly uses the four-movement form, after the Italian sonata da chiesa.

In between these two orchestral works – although in this recording performed with one instrument per part – three Fantasias are played. They are part of a set of 12 fantasias which were written for the transverse flute. It wasn't unusual, though, to play them on the recorder as they are here. They consist of a number of short, contrasting movements, and they contain passages which suggest polyphony, not unlike Bach's partitas and sonatas for violin solo, through big leaps between the high and the low register of the recorder.

These fantasias are the most satisfying part of this disc. Here Julien Martin displays his impressive technical skills, and the contrasts between the movements come out well. Far less impressive are the Overture and the Concerto. Julien Martin plays too much legato, and there is a lack of differentiation between the good and the bad notes as well as a lack in dynamic contrasts. In addition the tempo of the second movement of the Overture, Les Plaisirs, is ridiculously slow. One immediately notices that the music requires a faster tempo. I wonder how the artists interpret the title of this movement.

As I already wrote the ensemble is playing here with one instrument per part. Therefore I really don't see the need to use two keyboard instruments in the basso continuo section of the overture. And the use of an organ is even more questionable.

The booklet doesn't give any information about the music performed on this disc. Instead we get an interview (in English, French and German) with Skip Sempé and Julien Martin about the different styles – French, German, Italian – and the instruments as well as matters of interpretation. Sempé attacks the style of performing of the mid-20th century, without being specific as to what or whom exactly he is referring to, which makes his criticism a bit cheap. It had been interesting to know in what way his interpretation of the music on this disc differs from previous recordings, but he doesn't say a single word about that. After reading this interview one comes away as wise as one went.

Skip Sempé has a kind of reputation of doing things his own way. There is nothing wrong about that, as long as these ways are well thought-over and based on historical evidence. This recording, with all its merits, fails to convince me that is the case.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

Relevant links:

Capriccio Stravagante
Skip Sempé

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