Telemann: Six Orchestral Suites / Schneider, Et Al

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The high quality of the performances and the unfailingly artful invention displayed throughout this set of rarely heard works make the discs an essential addition to every Telemann collection.

The six suites recorded here for the first time are unlikely to be familiar to even the most discerning Telemann collector. They have an interesting history, having started life as a set of chamber works published as Das Kleine Kammermusik in 1716 during the composer’s tenure of the post of director of music to the city of Frankfurt am Main. Unusually, they bear a dedication not to a patron or ruler, but to four outstanding oboists encountered by Telemann during the course of his career. Styled as partitas, each consisted of a brief prelude followed by six usually tiny movements termed “aria.” Typically astute, Telemann described the scoring as being “for the violin/flute as well as for the harpsichord but especially for the oboe,” thus drawing into his potential sales net every kind of amateur performer.

His marketing ploy appears to have been successful, since in 1728 Telemann, now based in Hamburg, reissued the set with minor variants and a French title, Petite Musique de Chambre. Meanwhile, at some point between the two publications, Telemann had adapted the partitas as orchestral suites, scoring them for either a pair of oboes, bassoon, and strings, or strings alone (in the instance of the B??and C-Minor concertos), and adding a French overture that substantially expanded and altered the balance of the works. Accounting for something like a third of the entire suite, it is these overtures that form the meat of the matter. Telemann was one of the unquestioned masters of the form, and here each has its own distinctive character. Most remarkable of all is the one that prefaces the C-Minor Suite, its opening section a dark-hued, introverted lamentation that has moved far away from the dotted pomp of its French models, while the succeeding tersely argued allegro scarcely dissipates the sorrowing that pervades the movement. The E-Minor, too, opens with an intense gravement that might well herald a more public tragedy of some kind, perhaps a Passion setting. The seriousness of the G-Minor’s gravement is of a different kind, its breadth of utterance evoking the stately grandeur of some solemn occasion. Different yet again, the overture of the G-Major juxtaposes the noble eloquence of its slow opening with a sturdy, Handelian allegro. The airs, too, encompass a broad range of movements, from formal dance movements of varying types (minuets, bourées, sarabandes, sicilianas, gigues, and so forth), through the unfettered joie de vivre of the folk rhythms that play such an important role in Telemann’s music, and to the occasional more “learned” number.

The performances are splendid. Schneider adopts unexceptionable tempos throughout, capturing the breadth of the French overtures to fine effect, at the same time achieving a flowing lyricism in the more gracious movements, and pointing up the lighter dance movements with strongly articulated rhythms and, where appropriate, wit. The playing is first-rate throughout, as is cpo’s lively sound quality. The conductor contributes an informative note, although a proofreading slip results in the G-Major Concerto being transcribed into F-Major. Nor should the 121:04 timing on the back of the jewel box be given credence; the correct timing is that given in the heading, making for somewhat short measure. Notwithstanding such insignificant caveats, the high quality of the performances and the unfailingly artful invention displayed throughout this set of rarely heard works make the discs an essential addition to every Telemann collection.

Brian Robins, FANFARE

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 999994-2

  • UPC: 761203999422

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Georg Philipp Telemann

  • Conductor: Michael Schneider

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: La Stagione