Notes and Editorial Reviews
Suite in C,
TWV 55:C3, “Wassermusik.”
Concertos: in e,
Sinfonia in D,
Stefano Bagliano (rcr); cond; Collegium Pro Musica (period instruments)
STRADIVARIUS 33783 (71:30)
trade, the music reviewer’s lot, is curious. We are supposed to judge the qualities and defects of recordings with as little prejudice as possible, to be permeable to new ideas and new interpretations. At the same time, we are asked to compare performances in order to ascertain how each CD stands, measured against what is already on the market. Comparing one CD to another obviously kills the “pure,” unadulterated first impression that the CD should cause, and that the reviewer is supposed to report. Like most of my colleagues, each time a new CD arrives at my door I try to listen with virgin ears. That is not possible, evidently, even though the fact that my memory is simply terrible helps a lot. What a quandary!
The fact is that one cannot help being biased one way or another. Take the present CD. I myself have played some of the works contained in it, and thus it is inescapable that I will end up comparing the choices of tempos, ornamentation, sound, etc., with my own—which are not necessarily the best. Also, unfortunately, for each of the works recorded here I have a recording that is, well, simply put, more congenial to me. I knew Stefano Bagliano and his Collegium Pro Musica from an impressive disc of canzoni and sonate by Tarquinio Merula, released in 1999 by Dynamic. The present CD is, once again, full of good moments. It is almost praise worthy.
The beautiful “Wassermusik” Suite in Collegium Pro Musica’s performance, for instance, starts awkwardly: the overture is way too slow, pachydermic, and mainly not quite French, when French it should be. The first phrases scream for double dotting, and I got completely lost without the stronger sense of direction that I craved. So, does that mean that it is a bad recording? Not quite. The next Allegro section is awash with energy and gusto, which makes up for the slack feeling of the movement that preceded it. In fact, in retrospect, the contrast between these two sections works reasonably well, and we get to understand that the lack of drive in the first was devised in order to highlight the ebullience of the second. Still, this work, which is one of Telemann’s most interesting orchestral suites, simply does not fly.
The flute and recorder concerto (TWV 51:C1) is one of my favorite pieces in the repertoire, and one of the few to masterfully combine these two instruments, normally considered incompatible. Here, it is played with spirit, with some excellent phrasing and apt ornamentation by both soloists. The lyrical second Largo is in tune (a hard feat, believe me!) and full of touching moments; the Presto finale (the liner notes point to an Iberic influence, but to me it sounds like a very exciting Polish dance) is lively and energetic. Yet the whole performance does not attain the level of sophistication and transparency that can be heard in the 1998 version with Stephen Hammer (recorder), Sandra Miller (transverse flute), and Stanley Ritchie conducting the New York Collegium; that recording, however, does not seem to be on the market today.
I could go on and on, comparing subtleties and flaws in each piece played. But the fact is that if I hadn´t heard “Wassermusik” (“Hamburger Ebb und Fluth”) in Andreas Staier’s version for Harmonia Mundi or Robert King’s for Hyperion (to name but two good recordings of this work), I might feel warmer about this CD. We could say that it is good, in much the same way that Franz Bruggen’s recordings of the 1970s were, with some of the same qualities and many of the same defects (a constant wobbling of sound that adds energy but also undue tension, a gung-ho approach that was novel then but now seems to lack thought or consistency). The choice of works is excellent and as far as I know, unique. Instrumental technique is fine, even brilliant at times; the orchestra is tight; conception—although rather old-fashioned—is clear and honest. What is missing is a truly remarkable musical stance, a shining personality (in that particular, Franz Bruggen stands alone!) that could make this the favorite CD of any collection. It still is a good buy, and worthy of the attention of all Telemann fans.
FANFARE: Laura Rónai
Works on This Recording
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