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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Musique de table

[I] Freiburger Barockorchestera
Dir: Petra Müllejans, Gottfried von der Goltz

rec: Feb, July & Sept 2009, Freiburg/Breisgau, Paulussaal
Harmonia mundi - HMC 902042.45 (4 CDs) (© 2010) (4.03'14")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & tracklist

Teunis van der Zwart, Bart Aerbeydt, horn; Friedemann Immer, trumpet; Karl Kaiser, Anne Parisot, transverse flute; Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann, Maike Buhrow, oboe; Benny Aghassi, bassoon; Petra Müllejans/Gottfried von der Goltz, Brian Dean, Anne Katharina Schreiber, Kathrin Tröger, violin I; Annelies van der Vegt, Christa Kittel, Gerd-Uwe Klein, violin II; Ulrike Kaufmann, Lothar Haass, viola; Guido Larisch, Stefan Mühleisen, Ute Petersilge, cello; James Munro, violone; Thomas Boysen, lute; Torsten Johann, Michael Behringer, harpsichord

[II] Musica antiqua Kölnb
Dir: Reinhard Goebel

rec: April & June 1988, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (studio)
Archiv - 477 8714 (4 CDs) (R) (© 2010) (4.13'25")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & tracklist

Andrew Joy, Charles Putnam, horn; Friedemann Immer, trumpet; Michael Schneider, recorder; Jed Wentz, Cordula Breuer, transverse flute; Michael Niesemann, Eberhard Zummach, oboe; Reinhard Goebel, Manfred Krämer, Florian Deuter, violin I; Andrea Keller, Werner Ehrhardt, Gustavo Zarba, violin II; Karlheinz Steeb, Laura Johnson, viola; Phoebe Carrai, cello; Jonathan Cable, violone; Thierry Maeder, harpsichord

[Production I] Ouverture & Conclusion for two transverse flutes, strings and bc in e minor (TWV 55,e1); Quatuor for transverse flute, oboe, violin and bc in G (TWV 43,G2); Concerto for transverse flute, violin, cello, strings and bc in A; Trio for 2 violins and bc in E flat (TWV 42,Es1); Solo for transverse flute and bc in b minor (TWV 41,h4)
[Production II] Ouverture & Conclusion for trumpet, oboe, strings and bc in D (TWV 55,D1); Quatuor for 2 transverse flutes, recorderb/bassoona and bc in d minor (TWV 43,d1); Concerto for 3 violins, strings and bc in F (TWV 53,F1); Trio for transverse flute, oboe and bc in e minor (TWV 42,e2); Solo for violin and bc in A (TWV 41,A4)
[Production III] Ouverture for 2 oboes, strings and bc in B flat (TWV 55,B1); Quatuor for transverse flute, violin, cello and bc in e minor (TWV 43,e2); Concerto for 2 horns, 2 violins, strings and bc in E flat (TWV 54,Es1); Trio for 2 transverse flutes and bc in D (TWV 42,D5); Solo for oboe and bc in g minor (TWV 41,g6)


Georg Philipp Telemann was the most fashionable composer of his time. It seems that he is no less fashionable these days. In the last couple of years a remarkable number of discs with his music - both new and reissued - have been released. The day when he was considered a composer of light and catchy tunes and his large output was used against him has gone. More and more musicians are discovering his great creativity and his crucial role in music history.

The collection Musique de table is a good example of his art. Telemann's reputation was such that it was welcomed with enthusiasm. "Lovers of music can expect in the coming 1733rd year a great instrumental work from the pen of Telemann. It consists of nine heavy pieces with 7, and again of so many light ones with 1, 2, 3, to 4 instruments.... Publication will take place on three occasions, namely Ascension, Michaelmas and Christmas. The names of the subscribers are to be printed with the work." Thus an advertisement in a Hamburg newspaper. The price was considerable, but that didn't have a negative effect on the response. No less than 206 copies were ordered in advance, from all over Europe. Subscribers included famous masters like Johann Joachim Quantz, Johann Georg Pisendel and Michel Blavet. George Frideric Handel was also among them: he was a personal friend of Telemann, and Handel would not be Handel if he hadn't used some ideas from this collection for his own compositions.

Telemann was a great admirer of the French style, and that explains the title of the collection. And the French goût is present everywhere in this set. The collection is divided into three 'productions', each beginning with an ouverture and suite for orchestra and rounded off with a Conclusion with the same scoring as the overture. In between are three pieces of chamber music: a solo - for one instrument and bc -, a trio and a quartet. In addition each production contains a concerto for two or three instruments, strings and bc. Although the concerto was an Italian form, Telemann once wrote that even his concertos "mostly smell of France". Even so, Telemann was open to the Italian style as well, and it is an indication of his originality that he was able to mix the various styles. He does so in an often unexpected way. It has been argued - in particular by Karl Kaiser in his liner-notes to the recording of the Freiburger Barockorchester - that in the concertos and the trios the three productions have a specific character: the first French, the second Italian and the third reminiscent of Dresden as a representative of the German style. There is certainly something in that. But at the same time Telemann mixes the three styles in every production.

The orchestral overture may be typically French, modelled after Jean-Baptiste Lully, Telemann incorporated the Italian style in giving various instruments solo roles. In the first production these are two flutes, in the second oboe and trumpet and in the third two oboes. Quartets - or quatuors as they are called - were particular popular in France, and Telemann later would make use of that popularity in his Parisian Quartets. But whereas in these most movements had French titles, in the quartets in the Musique de table all the movements are in Italian. And whereas the Parisian Quartets are scored for flute, violin, viola da gamba and bc, in the quartet of the third production Telemann uses the Italian cello rather than the French viola da gamba. The quartet texture returns in the concertos of the first two productions. One could consider them as a combination of the French quatuor and the Italian concerto. In the first concerto Telemann uses the same scoring as in the quartet of the last production. A curtsy to Dresden can be found in the role of the horns which often had a representative function and therefore reflect the splendour of the Dresden court. They play a solo role in the Concerto of the third production. One other element needs to be mentioned. Telemann's concertos are mostly in four movements. That is also the case in the concertos in the first and third production of this set. But in the Concerto in F of the second production - scored for three violins, strings and bc - he follows the Vivaldian model of a sequence of three movements: allegro, largo, vivace. This is one of the most purely Italian pieces of the set. Another one is the Solo in A for violin and bc in the same production. But this could also easily be connected to Dresden: here Germany's greatest violin virtuoso, Johann Georg Pisendel, was the leader of the famous court chapel. He was one of the subscribers of the Musique de table - he ordered no less than six copies - and certainly will have enjoyed this virtuosic piece.

Telemann clearly considered the Musique de table as one of his main projects. He signed the printing plates himself and closely watched over the printing process. The importance is well reflected in the number of recordings in modern times. If I remember correctly this is the second of Telemann's major collections of music to have been recorded. The first was his Der getreue Music-Meister of 1728, recorded by an ensemble of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis under the direction of August Wenzinger. They went on to record the Musique de table, again for Archiv. It was followed by a recording of Concerto Amsterdam, still playing on modern instruments, under the direction of Frans Brüggen. Later it has been recorded several times by ensembles on period instruments. Among them are the Concentus musicus Wien (Teldec), the Orchestra of the 18th Century (MDG) and Musica Amphion (Brilliant Classics). In 1988 Musica antiqua Köln recorded the whole set for Archiv, and that was one of the best recordings of this ensemble whose founder and director, Reinhard Goebel, has always been a great advocate of Telemann's music. It is also one of the best Telemann recordings of all time. And only recently Harmonia mundi released a recording by the Freiburger Barockorchester. In a way that was inevitable as this orchestra has produced many recordings of German music - among them pieces by Telemann - and the ensemble's members are all accomplished soloists in their own rigth.
It is just a somewhat unhappy coincidence that at about the same time the version of Musica antiqua Köln was reissued. That is especially the case because both ensembles are German, and their approach is basically the same. There is even one player involved in both recordings: the trumpet Friedemann Immer. That said, there are some differences in the way this approach is realised.

Both performances are based on the conviction that in particular German music is based on rhetorics and need to be played like a speech on music. This is reflected in the phrasing and articulation as well as the use of dynamic accents. But Musica antiqua Köln is more radical in its approach. The dynamic accents are heavier and the articulation sharper. There is also a difference in tempi. On the whole MAK take the fast movements more swiftly than FBO, whereas the slower movements are sometimes slower with MAK. The latter also treat the tempi with more flexibility in that sometimes the tempo momentarily slows. This way the tension is increased and some passages are spotlit. The performances of Musica antiqua Köln are a bit more detailed, and that isn't only due to the playing of the musicians but also to the recording. One has the impression of being in the middle of the ensemble - every line can be heard. The Harmonia mundi recording is less direct and the sound of the ensemble, in particular in the orchestral pieces, less transparent.

In regard to the level of playing there is little difference between both ensembles. The Freiburger Barockorchester is one of the best in the performance of 18th-century music, and there are many virtuosos in its ranks. Although Musica antiqua Köln was disbanded in 2007 most players involved in the recording of the Musique de table still play a major role in the early music scene, like the flautist Jed Wentz, the oboist Michael Niesemann and the violinists Manfredo Kraemer, Florian Deuter and Werner Ehrhardt. It is only in some pieces that I found the Freiburger Barockorchester disappointing, in particular in the Concerto in A of the first production. It is a bit dull, and the playing of the solo parts not very engaging. On the whole I am more satisfied with the performances of Musica antiqua Köln whose theatrical and colourful performances express the qualities of Telemann's music best. It also plays all the repeats some of which are omitted in FBO's recording. The fact that the Archiv production is available at budget price could well be decisive in favour of the Archiv set. But Telemann diehards certainly would like to have them both.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Freiburger Barockorchester

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