Thursday, July 29, 2010
Georg Philipp Telemann’s life was contemporary with the rise and decline in popularity of the Baroque recorder. It is possible that he played this instrument; of all German composers, he wrote the most music for it. His music is said to be extremely idiomatic for the instrument, and it appears in hundreds of his works.
This disc features four works for orchestra and recorder. Calling it "Recorder Concertos" is not really accurate, since it contains two concertos, one suite and a sinfonia, but the recorder is indeed the featured instrument in these works. It should be noted that the instrument used here has a rich, complex sound; this is a Baroque recorder, which is different from the harsher, shriller Renaissance recorder.
The A minor Suite, at over 30 minutes long, takes up about half of this disc. Its very first notes bear witness to its French influence; it is a suite in the French form, following the various dance movements used traditionally in this type of work. This large-scale work is similar to Bach’s orchestral suites, and is said to be, for recorder players, the equivalent of the Bach’s B minor suite for flautists. Telemann’s suite combines the Italian solo concerto style with the French suite form, giving the recorder a central role. The music is beautiful - it has the drama of some French opera overtures, and the subtle structure of Bach’s orchestral works. The performance, both by Peter Holtslag on recorder and by the entire Orchestra, is very moving. Gone are the staid tempi often heard in recordings and performances of such works; this piece breathes energy and emotion. The orchestra is small enough to not overpower the recorder, but large enough to give a rich, lush sound.
The two actual recorder concertos, in F major and C major, follow the traditional concerto form, with four movements, alternating slow and fast tempi. While the Suite in A minor is lavish and subtle, the F major concerto, perhaps written as early as 1708, is relatively unsophisticated, being basically an alternation of solo and tutti passages. The C major concerto, written much later, is a more ingenious work, with an interesting pizzicato accompaniment for the solo recorder section in the first movement, and a generally more modern style. This work is far more satisfying than the F major concerto, and the recorder part is much more interesting and difficult.
The Sinfonia in F major is a smaller-scale work that may have belonged to a church cantata. Its scoring is somewhat unique - it is for a recorder, a solo bass viol, strings, cornett, three trombones and organ. The sound is rich and has a unique texture, as the wind instruments double the strings, at times, and the continuo is played by the organ and viol. The horns give it a bright sound, contrasted by the airy tone of the recorder. This brief, three-movement work, is an excellent piece to close this disc.
Some feel that Telemann’s music is boring, that he wrote a great deal of music but little of it truly had character. This disc shows that Telemann could, indeed, compose in a variety of idioms, even when using a specific instrument as central. This recording is delightful: the music is wonderful, the performance excellent and the sound exquisite.--Kirk McElhearn