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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Fantasias for transverse flute (TWV 40,2-13), played on the recorder

[I] "12 Fantaisies"
Héloïse Gaillard, recorder
rec: August 16 - 19, 2011, Tronchet, Eglise Saint Pierre
Agogique - AGO014 (© 2013) (58'39")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list

[II] "12 Fantasias"
Dorothee Oberlinger, recorder
rec: Oct 29 - 31, 2012 & Feb 16, 2013, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88765445162 (© 2013) (54'55")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

[III] "12 Fantasie per Flauto solo"
Tommaso Rossi, recorder
rec: Sept 18 - 20, 2007, Assisi, Chiesa di San Francesco
Stradivarius - Str 33956 (© 2013) (57'38")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list


Fantasia I in A (TWV 40,2); Fantasia II in a minor (TWV 40,3); Fantasia III in b minor (TWV 40,4); Fantasia IV in B flat (TWV 40,5); Fantasia V in C (TWV 40,6); Fantasia VI in d minor (TWV 40,7); Fantasia VII in D (TWV 40,8); Fantasia VIII in e minor (TWV 40,9); Fantasia IX in E (TWV 40,10); Fantasia X in f sharp minor (TWV 40,11); Fantasia XI in G (TWV 40,12); Fantasia XII in g minor (TWV 40,13)

Georg Philipp Telemann is one of the heroes of many instrumentalists whose main area of interest is the music of the baroque era. No wonder: he provided almost any of them with fine music, either in orchestral formations or in chamber music. Players of the recorder are especially thankful: few composers of his time have written so much for their instrument. One collection of pieces they particularly like to play are the twelve Fantasias which have been preserved in a manuscript in the library of the Brussels Conservatoire. These are not scored for the recorder, though.

According to the title page they are written for the violin. However, there is general agreement that this must be an error as they don't include any features which are idiomatic for the violin. It is true that Telemann's chamber music for violin rarely displays any virtuosity such as double stopping. However, Telemann also wrote another set of solo fantasias, again for the violin (TWV 40,14-25), and these include various features absent from the set which is recorded on the present three discs. Moreover, in his autobiography of 1740 Telemann specifically refers to his fantasias for flute solo.

These fantasias were probably printed in 1726/27. They represent Telemann's first attempt to compose for a melody instrument without any accompaniment, but he was not the first in Germany to do so. He probably knew the solo works for violin by Johann Paul von Westhoff and considering his friendship with Johann Sebastian Bach he may also have been acquainted with Bach's contributions to this genre, including the Partita for transverse flute in a minor (BWV 1013). In her liner-notes Dorothee Oberlinger points out various parallels between Telemann's fantasias and Bach's partita. Another source of inspiration may have been the treatise L'art de préluder by Jacques Martin Hotteterre 'le Roman' of 1719 which included a number of Écos for flute solo. Telemann was a great lover of French music and in fact preferred it to the Italian style which he often found overly virtuosic, and lacking harmony and good melody.

These fantasias bear witness to his preference for the mixture of various influences. French music, Italian forms - derived from the sonata da chiesa and the sonata da camera - as well as features of folk music, in particular from Poland, are represented here. The texture is different: some fantasias include two movements - although one of these may be divided into sub-sections -, whereas others follow the 'classical' structure of the Corellian sonata, with four movements: slow-fast-slow-fast. Although the set is not formally divided into two halves, Telemann used Fantasia VII to suggest such a division, as it is written in the form of a French overture.

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. In various movements the recorder moves quickly from top to bottom and back, giving the impression that the treble line is supported by a basso continuo.

The fantasia was not a strictly-defined form and offered the composer an almost unlimited freedom. This explains the great variety of forms and styles im these twelve pieces. It also suggests that they are of a strongly improvisatory character. That is certainly the case, but may movements with tempo indications are in fact dances. Their rhythms obviously must be observed.

An issue which must be mentioned is the range of the instruments which are used. A performance on the recorder requires a number of fantasias to be transposed into a different key. In eight of the fantasias Dorothee Oberlinger uses a voice flute which has a similar pitch and range as the transverse flute. Seven of these are played in the original key; for reasons not explained in the booklet the Fantasia XII is transposed from g minor to a minor. In the remaining four fantasias she plays an alto recorder as it is called, better known as a treble recorder, "to emphasize the emotional brilliance of the music". Héloïse Gaillard uses a wider variety of recorders. She plays also the voice flute and the treble recorder, and in addition makes use of a descant recorder (flûte soprano en do) and a sopranino (in f). That creates some interesting differences between these two performances. The use of the descant recorder in Fantasia XII is especially interesting because of the bird song imitation in the last movement. But in Fantasia XI I prefer Oberlinger's treble over Gaillard's sopranino.

In the liner-notes to his recording Tommaso Rossi doesn't mention the issue of transposition. His instrument is not specified either: it is simply referred to as recorder. The track-list omits the keys; that is one way to avoid the issue. The fact that he uses one instrument implies that a number of fantasias - probably most of them - are transposed.

There are some differences between the interpretations but it doesn't make much sense to compare them in detail. I have enjoyed all of them. Generally speaking I tend to prefer Oberlinger as her interpretation is probably the most differentiated and the most rhetorical. Gailliard's tempi are sometimes a bit too slow, whereas in Rossi's performance I now and then felt that details which I had noted in Oberlinger's performance, were underexposed. But whichever disc you choose - and there are more on the market, also on the transverse flute - you won't regret it. Telemann always prevails.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Dorothee Oberlinger
Tommaso Rossi

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