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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Telemann at Café Zimmermann"

Die Freitagsakademie

rec: August 12 - 14, 2017, Propstei St. Gerold (A)
Winter & Winter - 910 245-2 (© 2017) (72'39")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for oboe d'amore, strings and bc in A (TWV 51,A2); Overture in C (TWV 55,C6); Overture in g minor (TWV 55,g4); Sonata for two violins, viola and bc in a minor (TWV 43,a5); Trio for oboe, violin and bc in g minor (TWV 42,g5)

Gilles Vansons, Stefano Vezzani, oboe; Katharina Suske, oboe, oboe d'amore; Gabriele Gombi, bassoon; Ilia Korol, David Drabek, violin; Katia Viel, viola; Jan Krigovsky, violone; Jermaine Sprosse, harpsichord

The Café Zimmermann in Leipzig is one of the most famous concert venues in music history. From 1723 onwards the Collegium Musicum performed here every week, from 1729 to the early 1740s under the direction of Johann Sebastian Bach. This Collegium Musicum had been founded by Georg Philipp Telemann in 1701, shortly after his arrival in Leipzig, where he was supposed to study law. But soon his passion for music took first place, and it didn't take long before he was playing a major role in the musical life of the town. However, he remained only four years in Leipzig: in 1705 he went to Sorau (Lower Lusatia; now Zary in Poland), where he became Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann II of Promnitz.

Then, one may ask, what does Telemann have to do with the Café Zimmermann? The answer is: nothing at all. From a historical angle the title of the present disc is misleading. It suggests that the music played here was originally performed in Café Zimmermann, but that is highly unlikely. It is true that Bach did perform music by other composers, both German and Italian, and that he had much respect for his colleague, who was also the godfather of his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. But whether any of the music on this disc was ever performed by the Collegium Musicum under his direction is impossible to say. Only one piece was published: the Trio in g minor is included in the collection Essercizii Musici. Music often circulated in manuscript, but whether that also goes for, for instance, the two orchestral suites is very questionable.

They are part of the collection of overtures from Telemann's pen, which were copied by Johann Samuel Endler, vice-Kapellmeister at the court in Darmstadt under Christoph Graupner. These two overtures are not known from any other source. They represent one of the main parts of Telemann's instrumental oeuvre, which bears witness to his French leanings. He became first acquanted with the French style during his period in school in Hildesheim. He paid several visits to nearby Hanover, where the court chapel regularly gave public concerts. It was only in Sorau, though, that Telemann started to compose overtures in the French style. The most common scoring of such works was for two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc. In line with French habit, the oboes mostly played colla parte with the violins, whereas the bassoon played the same part as the string bass. Sometimes the winds could alternate with the strings, for instance in a menuet and trio pair. One of the notable features of these two overtures is the scoring for three oboes. The third oboe mostly plays with the viola. But Telemann treats them in a different way, in that he gives them more independence. A striking example is the Overture in C, which opens with a passage for the oboes and bassoons without the strings, something that was highly unusual and is typical for Telemann's creativity and independent mind.

That also comes to the fore in the titles of various movements. Telemann includes the usual dances, known from French music, such as bourrée, loure, menuet and gigue, but he also included character pieces. In the Overture in C we find a piece, called Harlequinade, referring to a character in the Italian commedia dell'arte, and a piece with the title Sommeil (sleep), which is depicted by a sustained melody moving in small intervals. The bourrée has the addition en trompette; the trumpet is imitated by repeated notes. The Overture in g minor has a character piece as its third movement, Les Irresoluts (the unstable ones), which is characterised by a tune revolving around one note in small intervals. This movement has to be played à discrétion. This work ends with a pair of menuets, preceded by a piece called Gasconnade, bragging. This again is eloquently depicted in the music.

Telemann's creativity manifests itself in his instrumental scoring, as we have seen. That also goes for his concertos, a genre he did not enthusiastically embrace, as he considered this Italian form to be too much focused on virtuosity, at the cost of melody and harmony. He once wrote that his concertos also "smelled of France". He seems to have had a particular liking for the woodwind instruments, which played such a major part in French music. The oboe d'amore was certainly not neglected in his days, but Telemann probably used it more often than most of his colleagues. The number of solo concertos for this instrument is limited, but Telemann composed three of such concertos, and it also participates in some concertos for two or more solo instruments. Notable is Telemann's general preference for the older concerto type in four movements, rather than the Vivaldian type of three.

The Sonata in a minor is a relatively early work, which has been preserved in manuscript in the library of the Dresden court chapel, the so-called Schrank II. It is a copy in nthe hand of Johann Georg Pisendel, for many years the concertmaster of the court orchestra and a good friend of Telemann. A notable feature is that this piece is dominated by counterpoint, something which is not immediately associated with Telemann. It proves that his command of counterpoint was in no way inferior to that of his colleagues.

As far as the performance is concerned, two things need to be noted. Firstly, the overture is not repeated. This seems to be a matter of debate among interpreters. Some repeat the overture, which results in an ABABA structure. Here the performers confine themselves to ABA. Secondly, the string body is very small: the string parts are played with one instrument per part. It is impossible to say what the line-up in Telemann's time may have been. It probably depended on the number of instrumentalists available and the venue in which the music was played. Here we have a line-up which may have been common in more intimate surroundings, and the relative intimate recording and close miking point in the same direction. Sometimes the result is that the strings are a bit overshadowed by the woodwind. On the other hand, this only emphasizes the important role of the winds in these overtures.

In the Overture in C I didn't always like the sound of the violins, partly due to the miking, which is probably a bit too close for comfort. However, the strings sound fine in the Sonata in a minor. The oboe and bassoon parts receive excellent performances. All in all I have really enjoyed this disc, which once again impressively demonstrates the quality and variety of Telemann's instrumental music. The overtures and the trio belong among Telemann's better-known compositions, but the oboe d'amore concerto is less well known, and the sonata is seldom played. The result is a nicely varied programme which will delight every lover of baroque instrumental music.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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