TELEMANN: Recorder Suite / Recorder Concertos

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Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

Suite and Concertos for Recorder

No other composer wrote in his day so specifically for the recorder as the Magdeburg-born Georg Philipp Telemann. His way of composing for this instrument confirms that he himself must have concerned himself intensively with the technical and musical possibilities of the recorder. The high notes demanded of the instrument, for instance the high A and high E in the Concerto in F major, are proof of this, as are the rapid semiquaver repeated notes in the Menuett of the Concerto in C major.

Telemann had a knowledge of all instruments and of their special features. An excerpt from his autobiography shows his endeavour to establish the particular qualities of an instrument and explore them:

‘The violin after the organ is tackled

the flute, oboe and trumpet too,

the gamba follows along in the bass,

only with here and there a trill.

No, no, it is not enough

that the notes just sound

that you know only how to take your wares

to market.

Give each instrument

what it can bear,

so the player has pleasure

and you have enjoyment from it.’

The works here played represent the recorder as a virtuoso solo instrument, largely removed from the limited range of expression assigned to it in the baroque period, such as the pastoral, scenes of love and the subject of death in laments and mourning. The Suite in A minor offers a store of the musical expression of feelings, of joy, love, longing, hope, shame, fear, courage, sadness, despair, hatred and anger, nor the less a compendium of the most important musical national styles of the European baroque. French, Italian and Polish elements are here combined in the ‘mixed taste’ that Johann Joachim Quantz equates with the ‘German taste’:

‘When we know how to choose with proper discrimination what is best in each from the musical tastes of the different peoples, there comes from this a mixed taste, which, without stepping beyond the bounds of modesty, may very well be called the German taste: not only because the Germans discovered it first but also because it was introduced into various districts of Germany many years ago and still flourishes, nor is displeasing in Italy, France or other countries.’

Telemann enriches his concertos and suites particularly with elements of Polish style and structure, with which he could have been familiar since 1705, the start of his stay in Sorau (the modern Z.ary) as Court Kapellmeister in the service of Count Erdmann von Promnitz. Striking examples of this alla polacca style are the Polonaise in the Suite in A minor and the Presto of the Double Concerto.

In his autobiography of 1718 he captured this both in prose and in verse:

‘Here there was further acquaintance with Polish music, through proximity, from which I confess that I have found many different good things which later were of service to me in matters both many and serious.’

‘Praise there is, beside, from each for what gives him pleasure.

Now a Polish song makes the whole world dance;

So I need no care to bring it to an end:

Polish music must not be wooden.’

In the Ouverture-Suite in A minor Telemann is revealed once more as a master of the ‘mixed taste’. The Ouverture and the galanterie dance movements, Les Plaisirs, Menuett I and II, Passepied I and II and Polonaise, with the Air à l’Italien and Réjouissance, show Telemann as a suite composer rich in invention in a form to which he was particularly attached: by 1718 he had already written some two hundred suites.

After the slow and dotted opening in the style of Lully there follows a rapid fugal section in which string passages, in something of the Italian ritornello form, are interrupted by the solo passages for recorder. In the following Les Plaisirs the recorder plays only in the middle section, accompanied by the upper strings, as in the Menuett, the Passepied and the Polonaise, instrumentation for which Telemann settled advisedly with regard to the dynamic possibilities of the solo instrument. The Air à l’Italien is a baroque operatic aria in Italian da capo form, as found in Handel. The Cantabile first part with its many unexpected harmonic twists is followed by a contrasting virtuoso middle section. After the Menuett, a standard movement in almost every baroque suite, the Réjouissance is striking in its burlesque style and in the dialogue between the orchestra and the passages for the soloist. In the Passepied the central solo passage moves into an unexpected A major. ‘I know no dance that so much unites in itself amiability, dignity and grace as the Polonaise’ an anonymous writer of 1645 remarks. It is therefore not surprising that Telemann ends his suite with this movement and the recorder in the middle section has its last opportunity for virtuoso figuration.

Telemann’s Double Concerto in E minor, for recorder and transverse flute, the only existing concerto in this form, combines both solo instruments in pleasing conjunction. The first movement, largely a dialogue between the flutes, is clearly what Johann Mattheson ascribed to E minor in his account of the characteristics of the keys: ‘deep-thinking grieved and sad…something quick may be written in this key but it is not, on that account, cheerful…’ This is the style of the fugal second movement with its many solo passages of what Mattheson described as ‘impetuous quality’. The third movement in E major is almost carried away; with its orchestral introduction it seems to open the door to heaven and with its very ending close it again. Mattheson remarks: ‘E major expresses incomparably a despairing or completely mortal sadness; it is most comfortable with matters of the extreme helplessness and hopelessness of love and has in certain circumstances what is mordent, irrevocable, suffering and piercing that it may be likened to nothing but a fatal parting of body and soul.’ The last movement is a fast Polish hanaque in rondo form and with octave and repeated bass notes.

The two solo concertos here included are graphic witness to Telemann’s astonishing adaptability as a composer. The Concerto in F major has, apart from the four-movement lay-out, nothing in common with the Concerto in C major, which belongs to a completely different sound world that one supposed to have been found rather in the circle of Telemann’s godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). In the first movement of the Concerto in C major he conceals the continuing ordering of bars through ligatures, pizzicati and hemiola patterns combined with skilful turns of harmony. The following Allegro takes up the formal ritornello technique of Vivaldi, with a strong contrast between the solo and tutti passages. Melodically with its syncopation it resembles the later work of Vivaldi. In the arioso third movement the recorder develops its singing melody over the strings, which are motivically frequently coupled with the solo part. The galant Tempo di Minuet suggests, with its united lay-out as with the balanced combination of solo and tutti passages, the growing importance of the last movement in works of the early classical period.

Although both concertos survive as manuscripts in the hand of Christoph Graupner, a friend of Telemann,
Item number 8554018
Barcode 636943401828
Release date 05/01/2002
Category Baroque
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Rothert, Daniel
Umbach, Elke Martha
Rothert, Daniel
Umbach, Elke Martha
Composers Telemann, Georg Philipp
Telemann, Georg Philipp
Conductors Muller-Bruhl, Helmut
Muller-Bruhl, Helmut
Orchestras Cologne Chamber Orchestra
Cologne Chamber Orchestra
Producers Rink, Ludwig
Rink, Ludwig
Disc: 1
Concerto in F major for recorder, strings and cont
1 Ouverture
2 Les Plaisirs
3 Air a l'Italien
4 Menuett I and II
5 Rejouissance
6 Passepied I and II
7 Polonaise
8 Allegretto
9 Allegro
10 Andante
11 Tempo di Minuet
12 Largo
13 Allegro
14 Largo
15 Presto
16 Affettuoso
17 Allegro
18 Adagio
19 Menuett I and II
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