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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Chamber music

[I] "Telemann's Garden"
Elephant House Quartet
rec: May 29 - 31, 2018, Copenhagen, Garnisonskirke
Pentatone - PTC 5186 749 (© 2019) (58'56")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Fantasia in A (TWV 40,2)a; Fantasia in a minor (TWV 33,19) (lentement)d; Fantasia in b minor (TWV 40,22) (siciliana)b; Quatuor in G (TWV 43,G4) [4]; Sonata in e minor (TWV 41,e5) (recitativo - arioso)cd [5]; Sonata in a minor (TWV 42,a4) [5]; Suite in a minor (TWV 42,a3) [3]

Bolette Roed, recordera; Aureliusz Golinski, violinb; Reiko Ichise, viola da gambac; Allan Rasmussen, harpsichord

[II] "Die Kleine Kammermusik"
Manuel Staropoli, recordera, transverse fluteb; Gioele Gusberti, cello; Manuel Tomadin, harpsichord
rec: Jan 12 - 14, 2018, Silvelle di Trebaseleghe (TV), [private room]
Brilliant Classics - 95517 (© 2020) (71'32")
Liner-notes: E/P
Cover, track-list & booklet

[III] "Die Kleine Kammermusik - 6 Partiten"
Andrea Coen, harpsichord
rec: Jan 15 - 17, 2018, Montecompatri, Palazzo Annibaldeschi
Brilliant Classics - 95683 (© 2020) (72'16")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

[III] Concerto in b minor (TWV 33,A1); [II, III] Partia I in B flat (TWV 41,B1)b [1]; Partia II in G (TWV 41,G2)a [1]; Partia III in c minor (TWV 41,c1)b [1]; Partia IV in g minor (TWV 41,g2)b [1]; Partia V in e minor (TWV 41,e1)a [1]; Partia VI in E flat (TWV 41,Es 1)b [1]; [II] Sonata in D (TWV 41,D6) [2]

Sources: [1] Kleine Cammer-Music, 1716; [2] Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728-29; [3] Six Concerts et Six Suites, 1734; [4] Nouveaux quatuors en six suites, 1738; [5] Essercizii Musici, 1739/40


Georg Philipp Telemann is one of the most popular composers of the baroque era these days. Every year quite a number of discs with his music are released. There was a time that he was not taken that seriously, and unfavourably compared with Johann Sebastian Bach. Today, most musicians and music lovers recognize that such a comparison makes no sense. Telemann is a voice of his own in the chorus of (German) baroque composers. The more of his oeuvre is performed and recorded, the more this is becoming evident.

Obviously, one cannot expect every disc to include music not or seldom recorded before. However, the disc of the Elephant House Quartet is lacking a bit of imagination. Most of its programme is very well-known. That goes for the pieces from the collection Essercizii Musici and one of the so-called 'Paris Quartets'. They belong to the most popular of Telemann's chamber music works. Three of the members of the ensemble also delve in the collections of fantasias for a solo instrument which Telemann published in the 1730s. The twelve fantasias for transverse flute are the best-known of them, in particular because recorder players - always on the look-out for repertoire - like to play them on their instrument. In comparison, the fantasias for violin are far lesser known, probably because violinists have the brilliant solo works by Bach to focus on. Even so, coonsidering their quality, it is regrettable that they are not better known and more frequently performed. The same goes for the fantasias for harpsichord, and again, this could well be due to the fact that they have to compete with a very large corpus of keyboard music composed at about the same time, not only by Bach, but also by the likes of Couperin and Scarlatti.

It is a bit of a mystery to me, why we only get single movements from the fantasias for violin and for harpsichord. The playing time of this disc is less than an hour, which means that there would have been plenty of time for complete performances of these works. That would have made this disc more interesting and also more important, as it would have offered the opportunity to show the full quality of these pieces. The performance of single movements is a missed opportunity.

The main item that many music lovers - even those who have a special liking of Telemann - may not be familiar with, is the Suite in a minor (TWV 42,a3). It is from a set of six concertos and six suites, which was reprinted in 1734; the date of composition and of the first publication is not known. The music is scored in two treble parts and one bass part. The title page lists five different possible ways of performing them, either with the harpsichord in an obbligato role - which may have been the original conception of this set (as seems to be confirmed by Telemann's own listing of his compositions of 1740) - or with melody instruments and basso continuo. In their recording of the complete set (CPO, 2000), Camerata Köln performed these works according to the different suggestions at the 1734 title page. Luc Beauséjour and Claire Guimond recorded the six concertos in the probably original scoring: harpsichord obbligato and transverse flute (, 2002). Whereas the concertos are in four movements, the suites comprise either seven or eight movements. Despite their French idiom, the titles of the movements are in Italian.

Although this recording includes several well-known pieces, the fact that the flute parts in the 1734 suite and in the 'Paris quartet' are performed on the recorder, could be a reason to add this disc to one's collection, if that is a factor of weight (probably especially for those who have a liking of the recorder or play it themselves). Basically, there is no objection against this practice, but in particular in the case of the 'Paris quartet' I am not convinced that this is a real alternative. These pieces are clearly inspired by the French music of the time, in which the recorder played a marginal role and was largely overshadowed by the transverse flute. As far as the performances are concerned, the Elephant House Quartet plays these pieces nicely, but I find them too restrained. I would have liked a more marked dynamic shading and stronger contrasts in the choice of tempi. Telemann's music is more exciting and more dramatic than these performances suggest.

Telemann composed most of his chamber music for amateurs. That was also the case with the collection which he published in 1716 under the title of Kleine Cammer-Music. In his preface, he states: "Concerning the harmony, I must admit that there is little or no chromaticism, only natural and ordinary progressions, but this was meant only to please those, who represent the majority, who did not go too far in the study of musical science." Here he clearly refers to what was known as Liebhaber. At the time he worked in Frankfurt, and it seems likely that these pieces were explicitly intended for amateurs from the middle classes, who were increasingly interested in domestic music making. This also explains why Telemann indicates that the choice of instrument is left to the performers. He specifically mentions the transverse flute and the violin, but singles out the oboe. He clearly preferred the latter, as he dedicated the set to the four most brilliant oboists of his time: François Le Riche, Johann Christian Richter, Peter Glösch and Johann Michael Böhme; the latter two worked in Frankfurt.

The oboe was not very common among amateurs. Therefore Telemann avoided too many technical challenges. "I have kept the range as narrow as possible and avoided both too wide jumps and sounds that are covered and uncomfortable, on the other hand, I have often tried to include the brilliant notes that nature has placed in various places of this delicate instrument. I also cultivated the brevity of the Arias, partly to preserve the energy of the performer and partly to avoid boring the listener's ears due to the length." Ugo Piovano, in his liner-notes to Manuel Staropoli's recording of this collection, points out that these pieces may have been intended for amateurs, but that professionals could perform them "adding the appropriate ornamentations". In several ways, these pieces and Telemann's preface give us some interesting information about performance practice at the time.

The collection comprises six Partias. Each of them opens with a slow introductory movement, which is followed by six arias, numbered from 1 to 6, with an additional tempo indication. All of them require a fast tempo; the only exception is the largo of Partia No. 1 in B flat. However, in other Partias we find movements which require a tempo that is not too fast, such as affettuoso or siciliana, in order to do justice to the expression these indications suggest.

Telemann's mention of instruments is not exhaustive. Camerata Köln recorded the complete set (CPO, 1997) and allocated two Partias to the oboe, and the remaining four to recorder, transverse flute, violin and viola da gamba respectively. Manuel Staropoli decided to use the transverse flute in the Partias 2 and 5; the other four are performed on recorders: the soprano recorder (Nos. 1 and 3), the fourth flute (No. 6) and the tenor recorder (No. 4). Because of that, this recording offers a nice alternative to Camerata Köln's recording. Staropoli is a fine performer, who brings out the rhythmic pulse and adds stylish ornaments, without overdoing it. Especially at budget price, this disc offers an excellent opportunity to get to know these beautiful pieces from Telemann's pen. At the end of the disc we hear a fine performance of his only sonata for cello.

It is quite interesting that the recording took place in a "private big room", as the booklet says. That is the kind of venue, where such music may have been performed in Telemann's time.

Telemann also mentioned the harpsichord as one of the instruments to perform these Partias. This option is mostly overlooked in today's performance practice, which is a real shame. It is interesting that it is in line with what we know about the way François Couperin performed his music for instrumental ensemble. In the preface to his Apothéose de Lully, he states that this piece, as well as the Apothéose de Corelli and "the complete book of trios which I hope to publish next July", can be played on two harpsichords. "I play them this way with my family and with my students, and it works very well, by playing the premier dessus and the bass on one harpsichord and the second dessus with the same bass in unison on the other one". Those works were published in the 1720s, well after the Kleine Cammer-Music. The suggestion to play these Partias at the harpsichord may well indicate that this practice was more widespread than we realise.

Andrea Coen is the first who recorded the Partias as solos for harpsichord, and they do very well in this form. He delivers sparkling and imaginative performances, and adds a concerto in Italian style, comparable with Bach's Italian Concerto. Previously he recorded all of Telemann's keyboard fantasias (Brilliant Classics, 2011), and with this disc he has substantially extended the composer's corpus of keyboard music.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Elephant House Quartet
Gioele Gusberti
Manuel Staropoli

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