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Dip Your Ears, No. 34 (Telemann Quartets for Flute)

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G.P.Telemann, Flute Quartets,
Musica Antiqua Köln, R. Goebel

Telemann curiously divides opinions. Some – I among them – find his works uniformly charming and even inspired, others, just uniform. But those who think that Telemann can be boring must not know his Watermusik or his violin concertos. His famous Tafelmusik is admittedly long (it spans almost four hours, uncut) but that, too, has heaps of originality and beauty. Reinhard Goebel and his Musica Antiqua Köln have been some of the foremost and most skilful champions of Telemanns's musical cause. Their previous records were widely hailed for their imaginative and infectious playing, though there are works of Telemann that I prefer over his string concertos. This set of eight flute quartets (for flute, transverse flute, and recorder) is a delight. There have been few mornings lately when I haven't put them on for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Only two quartet-variants are repeated on this disc (and then only once), making for six different combinations of instruments. Particularly delightful in combination with the oboe, they have a lively spirit, and if the playing could be bettered, I just can't imagine how. In three and four movements, these works were probably the ones that brought the term ‘quartet’ to music in the first place. They offer beautiful melodies for up to three instruments at a time (with the basso continuo scrubbing away on the bottom) and exemplify mastery of contrapuntal writing. One quartet might be Haendel's and another – the only one written solely for strings – while not novel (such ripieno concerti had been written before) might just be imagined to be a distant precursor to the string quartet. But such dissection is quite unnecessary when the music offers such easy delight. Superficially enjoyable: yes; superficial? no.

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