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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Chamber music

[I] "Chameleon - Chamber music in changing colours"
New Collegium
rec: July 2 - 4, 2018, Zwijndrecht (NL), Oude Kerk
Ramée - RAM 1904 (© 2019) (73'51")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto à 3 - 2 Violini Discordati e Violone in A (TWV Anh. 42,A1)a; L'hiver for solo instrument [recorder/violin] and bc (TWV 41,d1) [2]; Menuet No. 7 in a minor (TWV 34,57) [3]; Menuet No. 17 in C (TWV 34,67) [3]; Menuet No. 38 in F (TWV 34,88) [3]; Menuet No. 48 in G (TWV 34,48) [1]; Ouverture à la polonaise for harpsichord in d (TWV 32,2) (ouverture) [2]; Pastourelle for solo instrument [recorder/violin] and bc in D (TWV 41,D5) [2]; Quartet for recorder, violin, viola and bc in g minor (TWV 43,g4)b; Quartet for transverse flute [recorder], violin, viola da gamba and bc in e minor (TWV 43,e4) (prélude; modéré) [4]; Sonata for cello and bc in D (TWV 41,D6) (lento) [2]; Sonata for recorder and bc in F (TWV 41,F2) (largo) [2]; Sonata for recorder, violin and bc in a minor (TWV 42,a4) [5]; Sonata for solo instrument [recorder/violin] and bc in g minor (TWV 41,g5) (alla breve) [2]; Sonata for transverse flute [recorder/violin] and bc in e minor (TWV 41,h2) (vite) [2]; Sonata for violin, cello and bc in G (TWV 42,G7); Suite for oboe/violin [recorder/violin] and bc in g minor (TWV 41,g4) (Sans Souci) [2]

Sources: [1] Sieben mal Sieben und ein Menuet, 1728; [2] Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728/29; [3] Zweites Sieben mal Sieben und ein Menuet 1730; [4] Nouveau Quatuors en Six Suites, 1738; [5] Essercizii Musici, 1739/40

Inês d'Avena, recorder; Sara DeCorso, Antina Hugossona, violin; John Ma, violab; Rebecca Rosen, cello; Claudio Ribeiro, harpsichord

[II] "Friendship sings"
Eva Legêne, recorder; Washington McClain, oboe; Michael McCraw, Dominic Teresia, bassoon; Corey Jamason, harpsichord
rec: 2003, Bloomington, IN, Indiana University (Jacobs School of Music, Auer Hall)
Cornetto - COR 10053 (© 2019) (65'23")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Fantasia for transverse flute [recorder] in d minor (TWV 40,7); Fantasia for transverse flute [recorder] in E (TWV 40,10); Partita for solo instrument and bc in G (TWV 41,G2) [1]; Sonata for oboe, harpsichord and bc in E flat (TWV 42,Es3) [3]; Sonata for recorder and bc in d minor (TWV 41,d4) [3]; Sonata for recorder, oboe and bc in c minor (TWV 42,c2) [3]; Sonatina for bassoon (recorder/cello) and bc in a minor (TWV 41,a4)a [2]

Sources: [1] Die kleine Cammer-Music, 1716; [2] Neue Sonatinen, 1730/31; [3] Essercizii Musici, 1739/40


There was a time that Georg Philipp Telemann was not entirely taken seriously. He was considered a composer of mainly easy music, and he had written way too much anyway. Those days are gone. Today top-class performers are more than willing to explore his large oeuvre, and the two discs under review here attest to that.

The ensemble New Collegium is not the first to use the term 'chameleon' to characterise Telemann's oeuvre. A few years ago Bergen Barokk did the same and its programme showed some similarity with that on the present disc by New Collegium, in that it included pieces of different character and scoring, and taken from a wide variety of sources.

Telemann's chamber music was intended for amateurs in the first place, and therefore could not be too technically demanding. However, that does not mean that all his works in this department are easy stuff. He certainly wanted to challenge the players of his music - which is part of the pedagogical features of the Enlightenment, of which Telemann was an exponent - and he also liked to offer something to more advanced players, including professionals. The Essercizii Musici attest to that. This collection was printed in 1740, but more recent research suggests that it was likely written in the mid-1720s. It comprises of solo sonatas as well as trios for two instruments and basso continuo. These pieces have to be ranked among the more demanding parts of Telemann's oeuvre, and were appealing to Liebhaber (amateurs) and Kenner (professionals) alike. In the Sonata in a minor the two melody parts are for recorder and violin. Despite the growing popularity of the transverse flute in his time, Telemann continued to compose for the recorder, which had its heydays in the previous century.

The programme is a nice mixture of 'popular' and more 'serious' stuff. Moreover, this disc includes several items that are little known. The pieces in Essercizii Musici are among the most frequently performed and recorded, but the four menuets are from two collections that have received hardly any interest. One of the features of music for amateurs was that it could be played on various instruments: players could use whatever was available. That is also the case with these menuets.

One of the most surprising pieces is the Sonata in G for violin, cello and basso continuo. It is known that Telemann had a special liking for the French and had strong reservations towards the Italian style. This piece, though, is unashamed Italian in character, including the virtuosity Telemann associated with it. Also notable is the role of the cello, an instrument which does not figure prominently in his oeuvre. He rather preferred the viola da gamba, which takes a much more important part in his output. Equally surprising, but for different reasons, is the Concerto à 3, which is scored for two violins, violone and basso continuo. It reminds us of the late 17th-century, as Telemann requires the scordatura tuning which we find in many pieces by, for instance, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. The mention of violone is also rather old-fashioned, as this was often used for a string bass in the 17th century. Listening to this piece, one is inclined to think: Is this really Telemann or is this piece written by someone else? But with Telemann, almost anything is possible. It is one of the most intriguing pieces on this disc, that's for sure.

Telemann was highly praised for his quartets, which Johann Joachim Quantz considered models of their kind. Two are included here, that is to say: from one of the 'Paris' quartets, we get two movements, which embrace the entire programme. They are specimens of pieces which are intended for professionals or advanced amateurs. During his sojourn in Paris in 1737/38, they were played by some of the greatest virtuosos of their time, including the flautist Blavet and the gambist Forqueray. Here the flute part is played on the recorder, which is not the most obvious option. That is different in the Quartet in g minor, according to Telemann scholar Steven Zohn in his liner-notes, a piece that dates from the first decade of the century. It is scored for recorder, violin, viola and basso continuo. It has some traces of a solo concerto: the strings open the proceedings, and after a while the recorder enters.

In the middle of the programme we find a suite comprising movements from compositions originally published in the periodical Der getreue Music-Meister. With it, Telemann offered an amalgam of pieces of different character, from simple dances to opera arias, in various scorings. This suite gives some idea of what the periodical was about. The line-up changes from one piece to the other.

This disc is definitely one of the most interesting Telemann recordings which have crossed my path in recent years. It not only demonstrates the composer's versatility and creativity, but it also includes some little-known items which hopefully will inspire other performers and ensembles to look beyond the obvious. The performances are just excellent. Over the years I have heard many performances of the pieces from the Essercizii Musici, but seldom they were played in such an engaging manner as is the case here. Strong contrasts in tempo and dynamics are part of that. The Sonata in G and the Concerto à 3 are outright exciting. I hope that this will not be the last Telemann disc by New Collegium.

The second disc is more 'conventional', as it were. It includes mostly fairly well-known stuff, although not all the pieces are that familiar. One of them is the Sonata in a minor for bassoon and basso continuo. It is notable that Telemann wrote several sonatas for the bassoon, which was seldom given solo parts in the baroque era. It is unlikely that there were many amateurs who played the bassoon. This explains why in all three sonatas Telemann offers an alternative, either the recorder or the cello.

This disc also includes two pieces from the collection Essercizii Musici. One of the notable features of this set is that some of the trios have an obbligato part for the harpsichord. If this collection indeed dates from the 1720s, this means that Telemann and Bach were exploring the possibilities of giving the harpsichord an obbligato role in chamber music at about the same time, the former in this collection, the latter in his sonatas for harpsichord and violin.

It cannot surprise that the pieces in the Essercizii Musici are frequently performed and recorded. In comparison, the collection which Telemann published in 1716 under the title of Kleine Cammer-Music is far lesser known. 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. The collection comprises six partite, each consisting of a slow introductory movement, followed by six arias. Here the various movements are played alternatively on recorder and oboe.

There is another parallel between Telemann and Bach: both explored the possibilities of writing music for a melody instrument without accompaniment. There was already a tradition of writing such music for violin (Biber, Von Westhoff, Vilsmayr), but compositions of this kind for the transverse flute probably did not exist before Bach composed his Partita in a minor (BWV 1013) and Telemann his twelve Fantasias. The latter date from the late 1720s, when he also wrote such works for violin and viola da gamba respectively, and added 36 Fantasias for harpsichord solo. The flute fantasias have become part of the standard repertoire of recorder players, and it seems there are even more recordings of these pieces on the recorder than on the transverse flute. They consist of several movements, and are typical exponents of the mixed taste. One of the features of music for a solo melody instrument in the baroque era is the suggestion of polyphony. Even the form of the fugue is used. Obviously it is impossible to play more than one note at the same time at the transverse flute or the recorder, but a fast sequence of notes at different pitches can give the impression that these notes sound simultaneously.

This disc may serve as an introduction to the chamber music of Telemann. It offers a nice variety of scorings and styles, and has just enough lesser-common stuff to make it also attractive to those music lovers who are quite familiar with his music. However, the main attraction may well be the performances, as we meet here some of the main exponents of the early music scene in North America. Two of the artists are not among us anymore. Washington McClain, who for many years played in the ensemble Tafelmusik, passed away in 2013, and Michael McCraw, one of the world's leading players of the baroque bassoon, last year. This disc is a testimony of their art. The recording was made in 2003, and one has to be thankful to Cornetto for its efforts to release this recording on disc. It is a nice and well-deserved monument for two fine artists. Eva Legêne and her colleagues are like-minded and equally qualified partners.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

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