Notes and Editorial Reviews
Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the most productive, but also most original and creative composers of his time. One of the features of his oeuvre is the unconventional combination of instruments in his concertos and sonatas, and his vivid interest in uncommon instruments, such as the chalumeau and the treble viol. The latter is the subject of the present disc, which includes the complete trio sonatas for this instrument and recorder.
In the renaissance the treble viol - known in France as dessus de viole and in Germany as Diskantgambe - was exclusively used as the highest instrument in the viol consort. In the 17th century the bass viol was used as a solo instrument and also, in Germany, as one of the main string instruments in vocal music, for instance lamentos. The treble viol didn't play any role: here, as in Italy, it was the violin, which was used as the treble instrument in ensembles. This was different in France. Louis Couperin was given the position of musicien ordinaire de la Chambre du Roi pour le dessus de viole. In 1701 the first solo music for the treble viol was published by Louis Heudelinne, and it was followed by various other collections. In Germany, several courts were under the spell of French music, and this explains why composers, who were in the service of those courts, were interested in the treble viol and composed music for it. One of the best-known of them was Johann Melchior Molter, whose music for the treble viol has been recorded.
From early in his career Telemann was a great lover of the French style. Therefore it cannot surprise us that he was also interested in the treble viol. His oeuvre includes eight trios for treble viol and either recorder or oboe. A ninth trio sonata has no indication of the intended scoring, but is considered to be another piece for this combination of instruments. The four sonatas with recorder have come down to us in copies preserved in Darmstadt. It seems likely that these were made by the Kapellmeister Graupner or one of his copyists. There were close connections between the two composers, who had met in Leipzig, and then worked nearby to each other: Graupner in Darmstadt and Telemann in Frankfurt.
The fact that these copies are part of the music library of the Darmstadt court indicates that these trio sonatas were played there. In 1710 the gambist Ernst Christian Hesse entered the service of the court; he remained here until his death in 1762. It is reasonable to assume that he played the treble viol parts in these trios. We also cannot exclude the possibility that one of the violinists was able to play the instrument.
Four of the three sonatas are in four movements, in the then common order slow - fast - slow - fast. The exception is the Sonata in F (TWV 42,F6), which is in three movements. Early in his career Telemann became acquainted with Polish and Moravian folk music. Its influence is notable in the closing movements of the Sonata in d minor (TWV 42,d7) and the Sonata in g minor (TWV 42,g9).
As the four sonatas with treble viol are not enough to fill a disc, the performers have looked for other pieces to complement the programme. Pieces with a part for bass viol are the most logical option, but Telemann wrote only one such piece: the Sonata in F (TWV 42,F3), which is part of the collection Essercizii Musici. It inspired the performers to look further into this collection and to play some sonatas in a different scoring. The Sonata in a minor (TWV 42,a4) was originally scored for recorder, violin and basso continuo; here the violin part is played an octave lower. The Sonata in D (TWV 42,D9) is for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo; here the violin part is played on the voice flute. The Sonata in B flat (TWV 42,B4) is for recorder, obbligato harpsichord and bass viol and here the players obviously kept the original scoring.
In most cases there is no objection against playing sonatas in a different scoring. This was quite common at the time, and often composers offered alternative instrumentations. Telemann was one of them. As the sonatas from Essercizii Musici are pretty well represented on disc, these performances in different scorings are nice alternatives to what is available.
Lovers of either recorder or viola da gamba - or both - will enjoy this disc. Emma Murphy and Susanna Pell are fine players of their respective instruments. The treble viol, especially, contributes to the attraction of this disc. This instrument plays a very minor role in modern performance practice, and Telemann's sonatas with a part for treble viol belong among the least known part of his chamber music. Steven Devine plays two of his 36 keyboard fantasias. These are rather short works in three movements; the latter is a repeat of the first. Devine adds some nice ornamentation. His two colleagues also know how to ornament Telemann's music. Only now and then would I have liked to hear some sharper dynamic accents.
This is a pleasing and attractive addition to the growing Telemann discography.
– MusicWeb International (Johan van Veen)