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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Nouveaux Quatuors

[I] "Pariser Quartette 1-3"
The Age of Passions
rec: Nov 7 - 9, 2010a & May 2 - 5, 2011b, Heilsbronn, Refektorium
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88697839642 (© 2013) (60'56")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Quartet No. 1 in D (TWV 43,D3)a; Quartet No. 2 in a minor (TWV 43,a2)b; Quartet No. 3 in G (TWV 43,G4)b

[II] "Pariser Quartette 4-6"
The Age of Passions
rec: Nov 7 - 9, 2010a & May 2 - 5, 2011b, Heilsbronn, Refektorium
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88883717672 (© 2014) (57'50")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Quartet No. 4 in b minor (TWV 43,h2)a; Quartet No. 5 in A (TWV 43,A3)b; Quartet No. 6 in e minor (TWV 43,e4)a

Karl Kaiser, transverse flute; Petra Müllejans, violin; Hille Perl, viola da gamba; Juris Teichmanis, celloa; Lee Santana, lute; Michael Behringer, harpsichordb


The title of these discs need some explanation. 'Paris Quartets' often refers to the two sets of compositions for three melody instruments and bc which Telemann published in 1730 and 1738 respectively. However, strictly speaking only the second set deserves this title as these were printed in Paris and probably composed during Telemann's stay in the French capital in 1737/38. The first set was printed in Hamburg and dedicated to a German flautist, Joachim Erasmus von Moldenit. In 1737 this set was reprinted in Paris, obviously reflecting the great popularity of Telemann's music in France which was also the reason that he was invited to visit Paris. The present discs are devoted to the second set.

In these works various features of Telemann's style come together. First of all, the quartet was considered the pinnacle of the art of composing. In his treatise Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752) Johann Joachim Quantz stated that "[a] quatuor or a sonata with three concertante instruments and a ground bass is a test of the mettle of any true counterpoint artist". Telemann was one of the few composers who stood that test; another composer who wrote a number of quartets was Johann Friedrich Fasch. Telemann had grown up in the German tradition in which counterpoint was considered the foundation of music. That is reflected in the quartets of 1730. However, during his career Telemann moved into the direction of the galant idiom in which melody played an increasingly important role.

This was in line with Telemann's life-long admiration of the French taste. From early on he studied French music extensively and many of his compositions reflect his acquaintance with and preference for the French style. In his time the fashion in France was galant and refined conversation. That is expressed in titles of musical collections, for instance the Six sonates en quatuors ou conversations galantes of 1743 by Louis-Gabriel Guillemain. This title shows that the form of the quartet was also used by French composers, and these quators were scored for the same instruments as Telemann's quartets: transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and bc. It is quite possible they were composed under the impression of Telemann's quartets, because the German was immensely popular in France, and during his visit his quartets were played by the best musicians of the time. In his third autobiography of 1739 he mentions them by name. Michel Blavet played the flute part, Jean-Pierre Guignon the violin, Jean-Baptiste Forqueray the viola da gamba and a certain Edouard - whose full name is not known - played the cello. As the title page mentions the gamba and the cello as alternatives it is not quite clear whether they played together or in alternation. As no harpsichordist is mentioned Telemann probably played the harpsichord himself.

These quartets are obviously French in style, but there are also elements of the Italian style and elements of folk music which Telemann loved so much. These are probably not as prominent in these pieces as elsewhere: it is unlikely the French were acquainted with folk music from Poland or Moravia. But here and there these elements pop up, for instance in the modéré from the Quartet No. 3 in G. The drone in the gai from the Quartet No. 4 in b minor was probably more familiar as this was also used in rustic music by French composers. Italian elements of a rather dramatic nature come to the fore in the first vite from the Quartet No. 1 in D and the gai from the Quartet No. 3. The latter also includes an example of the sometimes strong contrasts between movements from a single quartet - here between the légèrement and the gracieusement - which is one of the attractions of this set.

A specimen of pure French elegance is the vite from the Quartet No. 1. Telemann also makes use of the form of the rondeau which was very popular at the time, for instance in the coulant, the closing movement of the Quartet No. 2 in a minor. He uses the division in various episodes to give each of the three melodic instruments the opportunity to shine. The Quartet No. 6 in e minor opens with a prélude which has the texture of a French overture.

The 'Paris quartets' - both sets as they are often collectively known - are well represented on disc. Various good recordings are still on the market, but even so these performances by The Age of Passions deserve a warm welcome. These are technically assured interpretations, but more importantly, the features which set these quartets apart from other works written at the same time are fully explored here, probably more so than in most other recordings. That certainly goes for the dramatic traits and the elements of folk music. The tempi are well chosen, which also makes the contrasts to shine to optimum effect.

Only one aspect is probably debatable: the line-up. I have already referred to the title-page which mentions the viola da gamba and the cello as alternatives. It is not clear whether they also could play at the same time as happens here in several quartets. In these pieces the harpsichord is absent whereas the lute is always involved in the proceedings. Whether a plucked instrument participated in the performances Telemann himself referred to is impossible to say. But we should probably be not too fussy: the line-up here could well reflect the various practices in Telemann's time in France.

Whatever one thinks about this issue, these are excellent and often outright exciting performances. Even if you have some good recording of these quartets in your collection, you should seriously consider adding these two discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Hille Perl
Lee Santana

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