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Telemann at Table

available at Amazon
Telemann, Tafelmusik (complete), Freiburger Barockorchester, G. von der Goltz

(released on October 12, 2010)
HMC 902042.45 | 4h03

available at Amazon
S. Zohn, Music for a Mixed Taste: Style, Genre, and Meaning in Telemann's Instrumental Works
Georg Philipp Telemann's Musique de table, an exhaustive collection of the sort known as Tafelmusik -- suites and other music intended to divert noble listeners while they ate -- is only one example of the genre, with contributions from Biber and others. Unlike much of that music, however, Telemann's collection Musique de table represents some of his most engaging and well-constructed music: as scholar Steven Zohn puts it, it is "a summation of all that he had accomplished in the realm of instrumental music up to the 1730s." He goes on to add that, "despite its parallels with other Baroque banquet works, the Musique de table surpassed all previous Tafelmusiken both in its length and variety of scorings." Zohn singles out the second of the three suites in the collection -- each intended to provide about 60 to 90 minutes of entertaining music -- as an example of the "mixed taste" that Telemann aimed to satisfy, with more refined musical forms (overture, concerto, fugue, rondeau, ritornello) alternating with the rustic style associated with Polish folk music.

Before hearing this new recording of the complete score by the Freiburger Barockorchester, led by Petra Müllejans and Gottfried von der Goltz, my recommendation for a complete recording would have gone to the recording by Musica Antiqua Köln, under Reinhard Goebel. (Conveniently, Archiv re-released this set in a discounted edition, around the same time as the Harmonia Mundi recording appeared.) Nikolaus Harnoncourt's recording, with Concentus Musicus Wien, has also been re-released at a discounted price, and there are other complete recordings, too, all mostly for prices less than the cost of this new release (but not by much, with the discounting now available at Amazon, for example). If you already own one of these good recordings, there is probably no need to duplicate, but someone looking for an excellent recording of the complete score cannot go wrong with this one.

Besides attentive listening to this recording in the headphones, I experimented with playing the entire set during the course of our Thanksgiving meal last week, and both manners of listening had rewards. Little moments popped out of the recording, even in casual listening: the shimmering but still pleasingly natural trumpet in the D major sections of Part 2; the frenetic steps of the Réjouissance movement of Part 1's overture or the cross-metrical accented shifts of the Passepied; the lute stop of the harpsichord in the Bergerie and the jagged postillon calls from the overture of Part 3; bubbly solos for violin, flute (played, quite beautifully, by Karl Kaiser, who also contributed the liner notes for the box), playful bassoon, outdoorsy horns (in the delightful double horn concerto of Part 3); viola da gamba and lute adding gorgeous color to the continuo for some pieces. Each part of the score combines overtures and sinfonias for large ensemble with a diverse menu of chamber-sized pieces -- trio sonatas, solo sonatas, quartets, and concertos for various combinations of solo instruments. The packaging of the set recalls the palate-diverting nature of the music, with closeups of table utensils, one fork for the first volume, a fork and spoon for the second, and so on. The Freiburg ensemble sounds collectively at the top of their game, unified and crisp rhythmically, perfectly in tune, and moving gracefully as one.

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