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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "The Saxon Alternative - Music for Wind Band"


rec: Feb 16 - 17 & April 28 - 29, 2014, Stoke by Nayland, St Mary's Church
Resonus - RES10154 ( 2015) (62'04")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Overture in c minor (TWV 55,c3); Concerto a 5 in D (TWV 44,2); Overture in F (TWV 44,7); Overture in F (TWV 44,14); Overture in B flat (TWV 55,B3)

Belinda Paul, Ann Allen, oboe, oboe d'amore; Hanna Geisel, taille; Anneke Scott, Kate Goldsmith, horn; Sally Holman, Inga Maria Klaucke, bassoon; Dan Tidhar, harpsichord

Wind instruments played a major part in renaissance and baroque Europe. Many towns had their own ensembles of wind players, such as the city waits in England and the Stadtpfeifer in Germany. They participated in ceremonies of the town and played in the homes of the social elite. In the 17th century France was a trendsetter in many ways, and that includes the development and increasing role of wind instruments. The emergence of the oboe in particular was a key moment in music history. Louis XIV employed a group of twelve oboists, called Les Douze Grands Hautbois. As everything French exerted a strong attraction on royalty and aristocracy across Europe oboes - mostly alongside bassoons - appeared in court chapels outside France. The present disc documents their dissemination across Germany on the basis of compositions by Georg Philipp Telemann. He was greatly interested in the French style and it comes as no surprise that he included oboe parts in many of his compositions.

The orchestral overture - itself a token of the influence of the French taste - was usually scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc. In Telemann's oeuvre one can find many of such overtures, but also in the output of other composers, such as Johann Friedrich Fasch. However, this disc focuses on compositions for wind instruments and basso continuo, without the participation of strings. Such pieces constituted the repertoire of ensembles of oboists, usually referred to as Hautboisten. Not only original pieces were written for such ensembles, they also played music for other ensembles, including strings, which was arranged for wind instruments, in particular bands of oboes and bassoons.

The history of wind ensembles doesn't stop here. Whereas the oboe and the bassoon had their roots in France, the horn was very much a German/Austrian addition to the wind band. Its history goes back to the Middle Ages, but technical changes in the early decades of the 18th century allowed it to play an increasingly important role at the courts of kings and aristocrats. From ancient times the horn was associated with the hunt, and in the 18th century it was naturally associated with the courts of kings and aristocrats given that hunting was one of their main preoccupations. Dresden was an important centre of horn playing and the court chapel had several virtuosic horn players in its ranks. The title of this disc refers to a specific kind of wind ensemble: a band of oboes and horns. In her liner-notes Belinda Paul states that The Saxon Alternative "formed the basis of the modern orchestral wind section". In the classical period it would develop into the Harmonie which inspired composers to some of their finest works, including Mozart.

The booklet includes notes on the various pieces in the programme. However, it doesn't touch some issues in regard to scoring. The Overture in F (TWV 44,7), for instance, has been found in the library of the court in Darmstadt where Telemann's colleague and friend Christoph Graupner was Kapellmeister for many years. He copied many of Telemann's works and a large number of the latter's orchestral overtures are only preserved thanks to his copying efforts. It is played here with two oboes, two horns, two bassoons and harpsichord. However, the original title is Ouverture 5/corne de chasse/violini/con/cembalo. The liner-notes don't explain why oboes replace the violins.

The Overture in c minor (TWV 55,c3) was originally written as a partita for a solo instrument and basso continuo, as part of a collection of six partitas published in Frankfurt in 1716 as Kleine Cammer-Music. It was later arranged by the composer for a larger ensemble. The original title of this overture is Ouverture dessus, haute contre, taille e cembalo. The terms dessus, haute contre and taille seem to refer to the string instruments in the French opera orchestra. In the Telemann work catalogue it is included as a piece for strings and bc. What is the reason to perform it here with two oboes, taille (here referring to a tenor oboe), two bassoons and harpsichord? Michael Schneider, in the liner-notes to the recording of the orchestral versions of the Partitas (La Stagione Frankfurt; CPO, 2004), also doesn't make any reference to a version for wind instruments alone. The Overture in B flat (TWV 55,B3) is also catalogued as a piece for strings and bc, but the autograph doesn't indicate any instruments.

It is perfectly possible that these pieces exist in different versions, and that Telemann - for instance - has written them first for wind and then reworked them for strings, after all the most common scoring, or the other way round. However, I feel that such information should be shared with the listeners. If the performers claim that the music they have recorded is a demonstration of the importance of the wind band in Germany they should more clearly document their sources.

All those considerations apart, this is a fine disc. Although now and then I found the playing a little too restrained the glory of the baroque wind instruments is amply demonstrated here. To that one can add that Telemann's music never fails to entertain and impress with its variety and originality. There is really no dull moment here. It would be interesting if this ensemble - or others - would continue to explore this relatively unfamiliar part of German baroque repertoire.

Johan van Veen ( 2015)

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