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Concert reviews

Georg Philipp TELEMANN: "New 'Dresden' Quartets"
Les Esprits Animaux
concert: Nov 23 , 2017, Utrecht, Geertekerk

One may question whether the commemoration of the birth or death of a composer makes much sense. In the case of the likes of Bach or Mozart it won't make any difference in regard to the appreciation of their music or the frequency of the performance of their works. Composers who are a little less famous may well profit from such a commemoration. Georg Philipp Telemann is probably one of them, because - although he was the most appreciated composer of his time in Germany - he is still in the shadow of Bach. Since about ten years the number of discs devoted to his oeuvre has increased considerably. It seems that his qualities are acknowledged at last. Whereas I have frequently reviewed discs with music by Telemann, I have not often heard his music in concert. I have not checked it, but if my memory doesn't deceive me, it was only this year that the Festival Early Music Utrecht paid real attention to his oeuvre. Some concerts were even entirely devoted to his music.

This year was probably also the first time that the concert series of the Organisation Early Music - which is also responsible for the festival - included a concert with music by Telemann in its regular concert series throughout the year. The ensemble Les Esprits Animaux was given the honour of presenting chamber music for transverse flute and strings in a series of six concerts in the Netherlands. This ensemble has made several discs, and one of them - in fact its very first - was devoted to Telemann (review. This indicates that they have a special connection to his music and are acquainted with his idiom. That showed during this concert.

All the pieces had the form of a quartet, but then in different scorings. Telemann was one of several composers of his time, who had a special liking of the quartet. His contributions to this genre were highly appreciated. The best known are his so-called 'Paris quartets' for flute, violin, viola da gamba and bc. It is no wonder that they include a part for the transverse flute, as this was the most popular instrument among the amateurs of his days. In this concert we heard some other flute quartets, this time not with a viola da gamba part, but with a part for the cello. These pieces are written in the galant idiom, which was becoming increasingly popular in the course of his life. It is notable how Telemann mixes the various stylistic elements in his music, for instance counterpoint - in passages where the instruments follow their own path - and episodes in which the instruments play in parallel motion. The role of the string bass also changes constantly, now playing a largely independent and melodic part, and later confining itself to repeated notes. The flute also regularly has the opportunity to shine as a solo instrument. It is a shame that the performers decided to replace one of the pieces in the programme by a different work; as a result one missed the details in the programme sheet. What was particular interesting was that these quartets are part of the library of the court chapel in Dresden, which today is included in what is known as Schrank II. The chapel's leader, Johann Georg Pisendel, was a personal friend of Telemann, and the latter is particularly well represented in the music library of the chapel.

The other pieces in the programme were also taken from this collection. The concert opened with the Quartet in G for two violins, viola and bc, and the penultimate piece was the Concerto in d minor for the same scoring. Whereas the former is from the Dresden chapel collection, the latter has been preserved in a copy of Christoph Graupner and is part of the Telemann scores in the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Darmstadt. These are quite interesting pieces, especially as counterpoint plays a more important role here than in many other chamber music works by Telemann. The quartet is an early work and is dated in the period 1710-1725. The liner-notes rightly connected them to the later string quartet.

The third leg of the programme was music connected to Polish folk music. From 1705 to 1708 Telemann was in the service of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz at Sorau, Lower Lusatia (now Zary, in Poland). Here he became acquainted with Polish folk music, which had a lasting influence on his development as a composer. In many of his later compositions he includes elements of folk music. These are not always easily recognizable for modern ears, but in other cases these influences are clearly discernible. In the Sonata in a minor the slow movements are characterised by Italian pathos. Especially the closing allegro shows Polish influence; it is called allegro, but is in fact a polonaise. The Concerto polonois in G, which closed the programme is an even more obvious demonstration of the influence of Polish folk music as all the movements are dances. The opening dolce is a polonaise, the third movement (largo) is a mazurka. There are imitations of Hanakian music in the second movement (the Hanakian are a Moravian people which Telemann encountered in southern Poland) and drone-like effects.

It was very clear from the way the music was performed that these musicians really like Telemann. That also came to the fore in the enthusiasm with which first violinist Javier Lupiañez presented the programme. That was also how the music was played. I probably would have liked a little more overtones in the sound of the strings, but otherwise there was nothing to complain. The ensemble was excellent, and especially the rapport between Lupiañez and Élodie Virot had a positive effect. The latter produced a beautiful tone and played her parts with much imagination. I should also mention the nice contributions of the cellist, who was a late replacement for the ensemble's own cellist. Her name was mentioned after the concert, but I couldn't understand it. In music of this kind, in which dances appear so frequently, it is important that the rhythms come off to the full. That was certainly the case here. In the row before me I saw a little boy, who could not keep his feet still during the first allegro from the Concerto polonois. That is probably a greater compliment for Telemann and for the performers than any written review.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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