Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ens Symposium (period instruments)
BRILLIANT 94330 (63:16)
Trust Georg Philipp Telemann to have an inordinately large amount of fun composing music. It always seems to me that he is forever joking about and playing with the various tools that he uses to craft his instrumental works, and if one looks at a number of these in conjunction with their titles, the possibilities he raises seem kaleidoscopic. The contents of this disc, the seven suites
entitled (in English) “Melodic Jests,” fit this view rather nicely. For one, the title page of the published edition from 1734 reads “Scherzi melodichi per divertimento di coloro che prendono le Acque minerali in Pirmonte,” etc. In other words, he seems to have written them while taking the waters in Bad Pyrmont, a spa town Telemann apparently loved to frequent. And if this weren’t enough, he divides these into seven suites of seven movements apiece (in addition to an introductory movement) that seem to be intended to be played in sequence according to the days of the week. Although there is the usual dedication to a noble patron, in this case Prince Karl August Friedrich of Waldeck and Pyrmont, his own introduction seems to imply that their existence was solely for the purpose of entertaining fellow guests who were also taking the cure by musically extoling the virtues of the waters. I find this a bit disingenuous, for of course, powerful mineral waters seem often to have an emetic effect when taken internally, and the music is anything but descriptive word painting.
What one has are miniature suites with a more chronological function (Telemann himself in the preface seems to call them “pezzetti”) than laudatory. Indeed, with one exception, each movement is under two minutes in length, and given that each suite consists of seven of them, one might suspect that the tone of the day is set by the introduction and each period of the day is represented by a single movement representing an activity or mood that Telemann encountered while a resident there for the week. Lest I be accused of an overactive imagination, it is telling that the final suite, Sunday, begins with the only contrapuntal introduction in the lot, a slow solemn
bookending a somewhat perfunctory and gnarly little fugue. This is a nod to the church sonata, and the following movements are equally reticent, a softer (I might add pious)
and a broad, melodic swath of a
, as if the participant were exiting the church. There, even the abrupt
conclusion hints at continuation, as if the audience were to start all over again with the trippy, somewhat uneven opening of Monday with its jerky hemiola and sudden harmonic twists. All but Wednesday contain a lyrical movement that corresponds to his addition in the title of “simple and easy little arias” (Con arietta semplici e facili), each a miniature moment of reflection and grace, such as the solemn continuo exposition in Friday’s Suite. Given that this day begins with a fandango-like unison in the strings, where harmony appears suddenly like a concerto grosso concertato, the comparative effect is efficacious. If I were to subjectively label each day-suite, then Monday would begin hesitantly and like most Mondays with a less than stable prospect of the week ahead; Tuesday would be bustling and down to business (and in the introduction the no-nonsense walking bass with its relentless line underscores this); Wednesday would waver between energy and stasis (found in the open fifths of the pastorale
with its hurdy-gurdy drone); Thursday a second wind (particularly in the almost too short
, as if the lyricism breeds impatience); Friday a powerful way to end the week (in addition to the aforementioned opening, the final movement gigue has a double tempo marking
, giving the impression that TGIF may have been on Telemann’s mind). Saturday, of course is more playful, especially since the bulk of this Suite seems to be based on the same tune throughout, varied in a myriad of tempos and rhythms, something a tired mind might do on the weekend.
I freely admit that this sort of chronological mind play is my own invention, for of course each of the suites has at its foundation more conventional Baroque dance rhythms, such as the Courante, Sarabande, Gigue, Air, etc. Telemann, however, does seem to be deliberately crafting these delightful miniatures in an immediately accessible manner. The instrumentation is spare—only a violin, viola, and continuo—but the textures work equally well whether performed (as here) by a chamber group or a small orchestra. The Ensemble Symposium plays with energy and adroitness. I am particularly impressed by the cohesive ensemble, which, since everything is spot on in tune, allows for the subtle nuances of Telemann’s music to emerge. I am used to varying quality from Brilliant Classics, but this recording is equal in my eyes to the recently released versions by the Ensemble Parnassi on CPO and Ensemble Delirio on Capriccio (at least their second release of these works in the past decade or so). This makes a choice difficult, but if you should choose the Ensemble Symposium you would not be disappointed. Recommended.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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