Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concertos: in e for Flute and Recorder,
TWV 52:e 1
; in a for 2 Recorders,
TWV 52: a 2.
Burlesque de Quixote,
“Gulliver” Suite in D,
Introduzione à 3,
TWV 42:C 1.
Musique de Table:
excerpt in e, TWV 50:10
Les Esprits Animaux (period
AMBRONAY 302 (69:20)
It is always nice to be able to introduce an ensemble made up of aspiring young musicians, especially in the world of early performance practice, for it demonstrates that the field is alive, well, and looking forward to the next generations. Les Esprits Animaux is one such group, formed in 2009 and already being heavily promoted by the Ambronay label. Led by violinist Javier Lupiáñez, it consists of a string quartet, harpsichord, and, in this instance, two flutists, Lena Franchini and Élodie Virot, who perform on the recorder and transverse flute respectively. Their choice of repertory will certainly bring more than a little smile to prospective listeners, even though all of the pieces have received numerous recordings before.
The repertory is well known among Telemann aficionados, and in one instance, the famed “Don Quixote” Suite, here under its original title, contains seven movements that have been a perennial favorite of early-music bands, evoking the misadventures of the knight errant and his doughty if not too bright sidekick, Sancho Panza. What Telemann concert would be complete without the harried skirling strings of the attack upon the windmills, or the solid minuet clip-clop of Quixote’s horse, Rosinant, followed by the stumbling and irregular rhythms of Sancho Panza’s mule? The reveille of the Don to an insistent folk dance over a drone, very much in the style of Biber, and the rushing strings as he tosses and turns with his fantasy nightmares with another ostinato drone supporting it all, are standard repertory fare but nonetheless no worse for wear, especially when performed with the energy of this ensemble. The two concertos, no doubt chosen not only for the two woodwind players but as minor-key interludes of a more conventional nature, are likewise precise and nuanced. The composer carefully delineates the subtle differences between recorder and flute in the opening Largo of the E-Minor concerto, but concludes with a fast and furious modal dance.
Like most knowledgeable composers of the period, Telemann was fascinated with literature, and Jonathan Swift’s satirical
certainly was fodder for his inspiration. The brief introduction, with its rushing violin scales and meandering lines, certainly brings to mind the hero’s sailing off into the unknown, but the almost Vivaldian sequences seem to house yet another hidden satire: Vivaldi, discontent with his work in Venice, setting off across Europe as an occasional vagabond encountering strange and unusual styles and cultures along the way. The Lilliputian Chaconne, a brief 26 seconds long, has the strings mincing and scurrying around like small mice, while the Brobdingnagian Gigue is gigantic, slow, and even clumsily developed. Even the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos have their own contrary little movement.
The six-movement suite drawn from his
of 1728 is more formal, being character portraits of five heroines of the ancient world. The shrewish Xanthippe is represented by a scattering of sequences that are at times highly dissonant, while Lucrezia is appropriately plaintive, with a soft, floating, and melancholy lyricism. Clelia is flighty with bits of lines batted about, and Dido has a lament that is interrupted at times by furious interjections, just the sort of thing one might expect of someone becoming insane. The group ends the disc with a bit of filler, a movement drawn from the ubiquitous
Musique de Table
. It concludes the program on a more solemn note, but is clearly added merely to fill out the disc.
The performance of Les Esprits Animaux is always spirited and well phrased, allowing all of Telemann’s many strange modulations and sometimes tortuous dissonances to emerge. It makes a good point of comparison with other performances of the same material, for example, on BIS with the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble for the dozens of Don Quixote renderings, or the “Gulliver” Suite by the Berlin Baroque Ensemble on Capriccio about a decade or so ago. These older performances are all very fine, even more polished, with a meatier texture that only a larger group can provide. This disc is pure chamber music, and given that, the energy sometimes overcomes the need for absolute precision in all performance aspects. There are many instances in the suites where the virtuoso passages are on the verge of coming off the tracks, or the scraping of the bow against the strings (such as in the reveille movement) wars with the musical needs of the performance. But the ensemble seems to be playing it for laughs, mostly, which is no doubt what Telemann himself intended. As such, it should be considered an enthusiastic alternative view of some rather neat pieces. For my money, I’m willing to put this alongside other recordings of the same pieces just for those moments when I might want fun to outweigh intensity.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
This disc is part of an Ambronay Editions project, in collaboration with the Ambronay Festival and the European Baroque Academy, called 'Young Ensemble Series'. The ensemble which makes its debut on disc here was founded in 2009. Although none of the artists is Dutch the group is based in the Netherlands. It was not long before Les Esprits Animaux were invited to play in various countries and festivals. Listening to this disc it is easy to understand why they have enjoyed much quick success.
If an ensemble has the opportunity to make a debut album, which repertoire to choose? The players came together for the very first time to play the
Concerto in e minor. So that obviously had to be on their first CD too. Then they sift through Telemann's oeuvre and find other pieces they wanted to play. The result is a nice mixture of familiar and less familiar. Telemann may be one of the most fashionable baroque composers these days but there is still a lot to find which is not that well-known.
As this disc comes without a title, I have used the header of the track-list as such. It perfectly sums up what it is about: the programme centres around the connection between literature and music. Three compositions are specifically based on literature. The programme begins with one of Telemann's most popular pieces, the
Burlesque de Don Quixotte, based on the famous novel of Cervantes from the early 17th century. After the usual overture we hear the awakening of Don Quixote in which the ensemble gradually increases the volume, going from
forte. Then Don Quixote attacks the windmills, expressed here in a fast tempo and sharp dynamic accents. Telemann makes use of
Seufzer to depict Quixote's longing for princess Dulcinea. His squire Sancho Panza is then humorously portrayed, and when his donkey appears the ensemble manages to depict its bray. This piece has been frequently recorded, but it leaves much to the imagination of the performers, and that makes almost every interpretation different from the others. The ensemble has taken this freedom which results in an entertaining performance.
In 1726 Jonathan Swift published his novel
Gulliver's Travels. I have not been able to discover when it was first published in a German translation. One wonders how Telemann knew this novel, and how many music lovers in Germany were aware of what it was about. It is the basis of the
Intrada, nebst burlesquer Suite in D. It is generally known as
Gulliver Suite, but there is no reference to the novel in the manuscript. The connection becomes all too obvious in the titles of the various movements, though. After an intrada we hear a
Lilliputsche Chaconne which must be the shortest chaconne in history: just 26 seconds. It is largely notated in hemidemisemiquavers (1/64) and quarter demisemiquavers (1/128), which suits the tiny size of the Lilliputians. The plump gigue which follows it effectively portrays the giants of Brobdingnag. Both movements are brilliantly played by the two violinists of the ensemble.
Introduzione à tre in C is included in the collection
Der getreue Music-Meister, and the scoring suggests it can be played with two instruments and bc as well as by solo instruments and
ripieno. That is the way it is performed here. Again there is no reference to literature in the title of this piece. The movements do not refer to specific pieces of literature, but rather portray various female characters from antique writings. After the opening introduction we meet Xanthippe, the wife of the Greek philosopher Socrates and known for her bad temper. Then follows Lucretia, who killed herself in order to protect her purity, and Corinna, a Greek poet of the 6th century B.C. She is followed by Cloelia, who was a hero during the war between Rome and Clusium, also in the 6th century B.C. Lastly Dido is portrayed: the character indication is
triste, but in fact this movement is a sequence of slow and fast episodes, separated by pauses, expressing Dido's sadness and anger. Telemann needed little more than two minutes for that: a whole opera in a nutshell.
In his liner-notes Javier Lupiáñez underlines that music was considered a language in the baroque era. Even instrumental pieces with no literary references tell a story. For this reason these compositions are never that far away from being literature-inspired. That is certainly the case in the
Concerto in e minor in which the recorder and the transverse flute are absorbed in dialogue, which is eloquently demonstrated in the playing as well as the recording. The largo is given an intimate reading, whereas the folkloristic character of the closing presto is performed with much creativity. The
Concerto in a minor was originally scored for two transverse flutes; here one of the parts is played on the recorder.
I have already indicated that I am pleased with this recording. In fact, I believe that this ensemble could hardly have made a better debut. In the familiar pieces it shows that it is well up to the competition. The programme also bears witness to their willingness to look for the less obvious. The combination of creative programming, technical maturity and musical persuasiveness makes this a promising debut.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International
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