G. P. Telemann: (sections from) Essercizii Musici – Florilegium (dir. Ashley Solomon, flute) – Channel Classics CCS 40118—119:30, ****1/2
Telemann, a contemporary of Handel and Bach, is remembered best today for being a prolific composer. Trained as a lawyer, he took extraordinary means to pursue music and later promote his music, in a variety of genres and by incorporating a number of regional styles. Most notably, Telemann integrated French and Polish elements into his music.
Among the collections he took to publishing was a collection he entitled Essercizii Musici, trio sonatas and solo sonatas in four movements, for a variety of instruments. The title of the work itself is interesting. When composers used the word “exercises” in their pieces, they almost seemed destined to an amateur audience. In some cases, these solo sonatas could be played by just two players; the trio sonatas, by three. The use of Italian in the title, I am guessing, was to impart another regional connotation to the works.
Some years ago I became acquainted with this collection, which takes the space of four CDs, performed by Camerata Köln on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. I soon learned the pieces weren’t overly simple; they no doubt presented technical challenges to players with varying levels of experience. The quality between the pieces vary, I won’t say that each piece is as musically rewarding as the next, but within the collection, there is real art to be found.
Florilegium, which are known for their interpretations of chamber music from Telemann and his contemporaries, tackle the collection with a selection filling two CDs. Between the earlier recording with Camerata Köln and this new release, some generalizations became clear. Florilegium’s recording on Channel Classics has a more spacious soundstage and stereo image. Their tempos, in general, are less quick than Camerata Köln’s. And Camerata Köln’s recording is louder, featuring a more detailed presentation of the instruments, with less “air.” These differences between the details of the recording process, however, aren’t enough to recommend one over the other.
And that’s where the comparison ends: both ensembles are made up of first-rate musicians and both present convincing and engaging performances.
One of the more familiar sonatas within the collection is the Trio Sonata in G minor, TWV 42:G5. Written for violin and oboe with basso continuo, the first allegro features a theme passed in canon between the oboe and violin. Both melody instruments are well balanced. As pieces such as these are typically written in binary form, opening the possibility of variation on repeat, I was disappointed they didn’t improvise on the theme in the repeats. Their practice, however, was consistently held across the recording.
On this recording Florilegium features solo sonatas for flute, violin, oboe, and viola da gamba. In each, the soloist shines with good musical taste and technical accuracy. Continuo support is supplied by harpsichord, lute, guitar, and cello for real variety.
Mentioned above, I find interest in the composer’s unequal inspiration among the pieces. One striking comparison can be found in the penultimate and ultimate pieces in the recording. The theme in the first allegro in the trio for flute and and harpsichord (TWV 42:A6) is somewhat pedestrian and reeks of amateurish fodder. The quality of the writing in the fast movement for the trio for recorder and violin (TWV 42:A2) is quite different. The violin part requires some technical chops and the theme is far more interesting. The slower middle movement of the same sonata (Affettuoso) eschews a typical harmonic direction, with the melodies taking large leaps into unexpected places. The final movement ends the work and the recording with a toe-tapping perpetual drive that is both lively and fetching.
The themes that end the solo sonatas for flute (TWV 42:D9) and for violin (TWV 42:A6) reveal to me a quality difference from Telemann’s pen. The flute theme is well-wrought, but is ultimately not overly satisfying. It’s light and pretty, but seems to lack the virtuosity required in the violin sonata. As the liner notes indicate, Telemann took it upon himself to learn the instruments he wrote for and I am wondering if his facility with the flute was equal with the violin. Either way, these make curious rumination on the music but know that Florilegium presents each piece, however inspired I found them, with equal reverence and sensitivity.
For those interested in acquiring the complete collection by Telemann, the liner notes promise an upcoming release of more in the future.
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