Telemann drew inspiration from just about every national genre and style of the period throughout his lengthy and prolific career. Alluding to this diversity, this program titled “Ouvertures pittoresques” (picturesque openings) features three of Telemann’s more evocative and instrumentally diverse overtures, as well as two Concerto polonois, briefer works specifically inspired by his longstanding admiration of Polish music (early on he often visited the region and remained an enthusiastic fan of the culture, and especially its folk music). The Polish period-instrument ensemble Arte dei Suonatori, directed by Martin Gester, clearly has an affinity for these concertos and delivers first rate performances throughout this 77-minute program.
The opening Overture in D major, scored for three oboes (one of Telemann’s favorite instruments), strings, and basso continuo, is composed strictly in the French style and is the least adventurous offering of the lot. Nevertheless, it’s still consummate Telemann, and when performed this well the many inspired moments–the inventive fugue that laces the second-movement Prelude Tres viste; the witty rhythmic play during the Menuets; and the ebullient, boisterous humor of the fifth-movement Harlequinade–absolutely shine.
Immediately following is one of Telemann’s most fascinating and famous works, nicknamed posthumously Völker-Overture (“The Nations”) because instead of typical dance titles, most of the movements are subtitled and meant to be evocative of specific nationalities. Like most ensembles, Arte dei Suonatori has great fun here, though the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin’s performance (Harmonia Mundi) reviewed earlier remains marginally more captivating. For instance, while the unusual use of percussion here in Les Turcs is a nice touch, Arte dei Suonatori’s performance just misses the momentum and wit that gives the Berliners’ romp a slight edge. Les Boiteux and Les Coureurs also suffer somewhat from this as well, but the group’s wonderful rendering of Les Moscovites, where the whole ensemble gradually eases into the beat (as opposed to each instrument eventually entering on their own in the Berlin performance), is equally compelling.
Before the final overture are the two Concerto polonois, works stylistically indebted as much to Poland and Saxony as they are to Italy (the verve of the allegros is especially Vivaldi-like). Musica Antiqua Köln (DG Archiv) has previously offered excellent performances of these two, often playing up the contrast between the two fast and two slow movements of each. Arte dei Suonatori takes a similar approach, yet their performance satisfies more because in comparison more attention is paid to the dynamic and rhythmic subtleties throughout, heightening the festive dance element Telemann most likely had in mind.
Concluding the program is another well-known Telemann favorite, his Ouverture, jointes d’une Suite tragi-comique, where each movement is meant to programmatically allude to either an ailment or a remedy. Not surprisingly, the ailment movements (Le Podagre, L’Hypocondre, and Le Petite-maitre) are slower, if not sluggish at times, and take nearly twice as long as the more celebratory and peppy remedies (La Poste et la Dance, Souffrance heroique, and Petite-maison: Furies). Here Arte dei Suonatori again rivals another formidable recording by the Academie für Alte Musik Berlin on Harmonia Mundi, though this time their performance is tops. For instance, the performance here of Le Podagre lumbers along convincingly enough while the Berliners’ rendering is so slow it at times borders on atonality. By drawing out more of the rhythmic variety in the Furies finale as well, Arte dei Suonatori delivers a much more exciting performance compared to the only slightly shorter Berlin mad dash.
The SACD sound is absolutely stunning. The clarity of the instrumental detail is remarkably life-like without sacrificing the illusion of the ensemble as a whole. This is state of the art Telemann and highly recommended.
-- John Greene, ClassicsToday.com