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Dip Your Ears, No. 87 (Classic Telemann Violin Concertos)

available at Amazon
G.P.Telemann, Violin Concertos, Twelve Fantasias,
I.Brown / ASMF, A.Grumiaux

available at Amazon
G.P.Telemann, Violin Concertos,
I.Brown / ASMF,

It is a great pleasure to be having Iona Brown’s recording of Telemann concertos back in the catalog – courtesy of the Decca/Philips Eloquence series. This has been a favorite record ever since I bought my copy as a college freshman. Listening to it now, several[1] years later, it is as much a joy to behold as it was then. Deducting nostalgic attachment and the ‘emotional footprint’ that such long-cherished recordings leave in one’s perception of them, the 1983 recording stands up very well to the little competition it has.

The five concertos – which include the apocryphal concerto “No.11” in B-flat major which is not the recently discovered TWV 51:B1 but most likely from the skilled Johann Ludwig Horn’s output – are played a little tamer than we are now used to from “HIP” baroque bands and those influenced by them. There’s a charming and broad, unapologetic old-fashionedness about the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields’s bright playing (A=440hz), and it suits these Telemann concertos which are themselves particularly challenging or deep works.

Indeed, Telemann himself just short of disavowed these early works from his time in Eisenach in his 1718 autobiography: “I have to admit / that they have never grown dear to my heart / even though I wrote quite a lot of them. […] I find in them many difficulties and crooked leaps / but little harmony and worse harmony, still…”.

He may have been a little harsh on himself, because slight or not, the concertos present a baroque pleasantry in the best sense. And surely we care little today, some 300 years later, whether his style was old fashioned (akin to Corelli, Albinoni, and Torelli; often employing the “Sonata da chiesa” – slow-fast-slow-fast – form) in the light of the ‘modern’ Vivaldi concertos that appeared at the time.

The combination of soloist and the string orchestra is striking for its coherence, actually, and eschews the flashy parts for a dominant soloist, instead being more interested in the given and take between tutti and soloist. The last of the five concertos on this disc is the lovely G minor concerto with its plaintive slow movement that was good enough to be transcribed by Bach for harpsichord (BWV 985).

There are not many recordings of these semi-precious concertos around – and between the few there are, there is little overlap. Direct comparison to Elizabeth Wallfisch’s excellent recordings of the Telemann concertos meanwhile (volumes 1 and 2 reviewed by Jonathan Woolf) is not terribly enlightening. Apart from the different pitch, there is much grater intensity, seriousness, agility, and explosiveness to be had with the L’Orfeo Barockorchester than ASMF. Next to each other, they almost sound like different pieces. But as much as I like Wallfisch, the almost lush renditions with Iona Brown soaring above it all have a charm to it that is more than just old-fashioned, they are plain good. Chicken Soup for the Baroque Soul.

Included on the other disc of this Eloquence two-CD set is the recording of Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Violin Solo by Arthur Grumiaux. There is no need to be pretending that these works are anywhere near the Bach Sonatas and Partitas but high-quality baroque repertoire for solo violin is relatively scarce and this is, alongside the Rosary Sonatas of Biber, on the top of the heap. They may well have inspired the musical romantic notion of a “Fantasy” because Telemann, too, adheres to no model or concept and are similar only in length – and then only roughly.

I adore Arthur Grumiaux and many of his recordings – but his solo Bach is dispiritingly monotonous. His Telemann is better in that regard, daring the occasional variation in timbre and dynamic shading – but this 1970 recording is worlds away from the more recent HIP renditions of Andrew Manze (HMU) and Rachel Podger (Channel Classics). The latter players’ flexibility – especially as regards speed (or lack thereof: both Podger and Manze dare to be slow) – pays dividends. As such this is a fine document of Grumiaux and an excellent bonus to the Iona Brown concertos rather than the primary reason for purchase – even if he gets the top of the bill on this CD.

The sound is very good for both recordings if perhaps a tad boxy with the Fantasias (and with two errant, unidentifiable ‘plops’ on track four).

[1] sev·er·al ddkhjas - [sev-er-uhl, sev-ruhl]


1. being more than two but fewer than many in number or kind.


Michael De Sapio said...

I'm perplexed by your remark that "high quality baroque repertoire for solo violin is scarce". Do you mean unaccompanied violin, or violin with continuo? If the former, then why do you cite as an example the Biber Rosary Sonatas, which have continuo? If the latter, then I don't know what to say; baroque violin repertoire (with continuo) is vast and incredibly rich.

jfl said...

Well, the Passacaglia of the RS is (true) solo, at least.

Michael De Sapio said...

If it's unaccompanied violin that you meant, then I agree; repertoire for this medium (high quality or otherwise) is scarce.