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Georg Philipp TELEMANN: Sonatas & Fantasias for recorder & viola da gamba

[I] "12 Fantasien für Viola da gamba solo"
Renate Mundi, viola da gamba
rec: Oct 2 - 4 & Nov 26 - 28, 2019, Bad Vilbel, St. Nikolaus
Perfect Noise - PN 2104 (© 2020) (79'42")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Fantasia No. 1 in c minor (TWV 40,26); Fantasia No. 2 in D (TWV 40,27); Fantasia No. 3 in e minor (TWV 40,28); Fantasia No. 4 in F (TWV 40,29); Fantasia No. 5 in B flat (TWV 40,30); Fantasia No. 6 in G (TWV 40,31); Fantasia No. 7 in g minor (TWV 40,32); Fantasia No. 8 in A (TWV 40,33); Fantasia No. 9 in C (TWV 40,34); Fantasia No. 10 in E (TWV 40,35); Fantasia No. 11 in d minor (TWV 40,36); Fantasia No. 12 in E flat (TWV 40,37)

[II] "Telemann intimissimo"
Christian Heim, recordera, viola da gambab; Avinoam Shalev, harpsichordc
rec: Sept 11, 2020 & April 18 - 19, 2021, Bremen, Studio Radio Bremen
Perfect Noise - PN 2201 (© 2022) (66'11")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Concerto in g minor (BWV 985) (after GPh Telemann, TWV 51,g1)c; Georg Philipp TELEMANN: Fantasia No. 6 in G (TWV 40,31)b; Fantasia No. 7 in D (TWV 40,8)Msup>a; Fantasia No. 8 in e minor (TWV 40,9)a (transposed to g minor); Fantasia No. 11 in d minor (TWV 40,36)b; Sonata in C (TWV 41,C5)ac; Sonata in f minor (TWV 41,f1)ac; Sonata in G (TWV 41,G6)bc; Sonata in a minor (TWV 41,e5)bc

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


Georg Philipp Telemann followed closely the musical developments of his time. As the transverse flute was gaining popularity, he composed many pieces for this instrument. At the same time, the recorder and the viola da gamba - whose heydays were in the 17th century - were still held in high esteem, especially among amateurs, and this must have been one reason why Telemann wrote a lot of music for these instruments as well, often combining the two in one piece. It seems also likely that his love for the viola da gamba was partly due to the fact that this instrument was strongly connected to the French style, which he preferred to the Italian style. It is probably no coincidence that the typically Italian cello does not play a significant role in his oeuvre.

The two discs under review here have one thing in common: both include a number of fantasias for a solo instrument. The second disc is entirely devoted to the twelve fantasias for viola da gamba, which were considered to be lost, until they were rediscovered in 2015. They are part of a cycle of fantasias for four different instruments: the transverse flute, the violin, the viola da gamba and the harpsichord, which were published between 1732 and 1735. They bear witness to the great variety of instruments for which Telemann wrote his music. It is known that he was able to play almost any instrument in vogue in his time. It is not known how well he mastered them. The fantasias for viola da gamba, for instance, are technically challenging. Was Telemann able to play them himself? That does not have to be the case. There can be little doubt, though, that he had an intimate knowledge of the technical features and capabilities of the instrument.

Like the fantasias for the flute and the violin, they are specimens of the 'mixed taste', of which Telemann was an exponent. That 'mixed taste' refers to the marriage of the Italian and the French style, as well as the German tradition of counterpoint. The latter is interesting, in that polyphony lost its appeal in his time in favour of melody, which the exponents of the galant idiom, such as Johann Mattheson, proclaimed to be the foundation of music. In Telemann's fantasias we hear quite a lot of counterpoint, for instance in fugues and passages with double stopping. The latter is a technique which can only be applied on a string instrument. In the fantasias for flute it is a kind of 'fake counterpoint', based on suggestion which is the result of a quick succession of notes at different pitches.

The number of movements of the flute fantasias varies from two to four, the fantasias for viola da gamba are in two or three movements. However, some movements consists of different sections in contrasting tempi. As far as the viola da gamba fantasias are concerned, the first movement of the Fantasia No. 1 in c minor has four, alternating adagio and allegro. The Fantasia No. 2 in D opens with a movement in three sections: vivace - andante - vivace. The titles of the movements are different and include indications such as scherzando, siciliana and dolce. The order of movements is varied: either fast - slow/moderate - fast or slow/moderate - fast - fast. It is also notable that all the gamba fantasias are in different keys. This contributes to the variety of the set as a whole, as every key is connected to a particular Affekt. One can leave it to Telemann to explore the features of each key.

Obviously the two discs are very different, and that allows for a different way of experiencing the music. Renate Mundi explores the features of the set of fantasias for viola da gamba, and that offers the possibility to get a perfect impression of what Telemann brings to the table here. Christian Heim, who plays both the recorder and the viola da gamba, has put together a mixed programme, which puts the fantasias for a solo instrument into the perspective of Telemann's output for these two instruments as a whole, as we also get pieces for either instrument with basso continuo. Therefore these discs are not competitive but rather complimentary.

Both discs can be recommende without reservations. Both Christian Heim and Renate Mundi are masters on their respective instruments and are well aware of the different character of the pieces they play. The Affekte come off very well in their interpretations. There are quite some contrasts between the individual pieces and within each fantasia, and these are perfectly conveyed. Avinoam Shalev is Christian Heim's perfect partner. He also delivers a nice performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's arrangement of one of Telemann's violin concertos. These two discs are valuable additions to the Telemann discography.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Christian Heim
Renate Mundi
Avinoam Shalev

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