The Virtuoso Godfather
Signum Classics SIGCD086
Classic FM Magazine ✭✭✭✭✭
Beautifully recorded and consummately played, this stunning collection of chamber music by Kress, Telemann and CPE Bach, is one of my discs of 2006. Julian Haylock
BBC Music Magazine
Performance ✭✭✭✭ Sound ✭✭✭✭✭
Charivari Agréable presents here an unusual programme in which Telemann's music is interspersed with that of two of his godsons. Far and away the more famous of them is Bach's second musically talented son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, who followed in his godfather's footsteps as Hamburg's Director musices. The other, Georg Philipp Kress, is now but the faintest of shadows and indeed may never have been otherwise. Charivari Agréable convey the fragile, never more than skin-deep charm of his Flute Trios with lightly applied articulation and an appropriate esprit de salon. These virtues, along with a marked elegance of phrasing, are features which define the performing style of this ensemble.
There is a pleasing energy in this playing which is also supple, fluent and idiomatic. The fast movements of Telemann's two fine G major Quartets for flute, two viole da gamba and harpsichord, more effective in this scoring than Telemann's alternative suggestion for flute and two violins, offer persuasive examples of what I mean.
The seemingly nonsensical photo on the cover of this CD, showing a bass viol supporting a tipping boulder, is matched by the equally puzzling title The Virtuoso Godfather. In fact each feature of the package corresponds to what's inside. The English historical-instrument ensemble Charivari Agréable, based at Oxford University, has a useful view of Telemann's music: in the words of musical director, keyboard player, and annotator Kah-Ming Ng, Telemann generally "eschewed the overt musical acrobatics redolent of the Vivaldian concerto, preferring to experiment with colors, sonorities, and textures." Thus, the "virtuoso" aspect of his music has more to do with instrumental balance and with the shaping of individual phrases than with sheer speed. The "godfather" part is simpler: Telemann served as godfather to the two younger composers featured, Georg Philipp Kress and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
Performances of Telemann are getting better and better, and as they do the old image of the composer as a dull nine-to-five tunesmith is receding into the past. These by Charivari Agréable (the words have the sense of "agreeable tumult") must be among the best yet. Sample any of the three Telemann quartets (he called them variously concerti or sonate à 4) for a taste of how they sculpt every detail of the music, with each instrument being given room to execute an elegant ornament, while the players linger lovingly on unusual combinations of musical lines. Baroque flutist Rachel Moss is intonationally flawless in picking up the attacks of the other players and matching her tone to theirs, and in general the level of cooperation among the players is extraordinary, both in the Telemann quartets and in the smaller groupings (or solos) in the works by the other composers. Hear also the unusual quinton or sopranino viol of artistic director Susanne Heinrich in the Fantasia sopra Jesu meines Lebens Leben of C.P.E. Bach. Its texture is striking, and this brings us to the only real complaint with this album. Ng points out rightly that substitution of instruments was common enough during this era, but one wishes he hadn't chosen to exercise the option in the first work on the disc, Telemann's Concerto for transverse flute, viola da gamba, bassoon, and harpsichord, TWV 43: C2, where a second gamba takes the place of the bassoon. After having been told, and having had it demonstrated how carefully Telemann treated coloristic effects, one wants to hear a Baroque bassoon here. Nevertheless, the recording quality is very high, with a strong sense of the performers' immediate presence. And Ng's notes are lengthy and complex, with plenty of context involving Telemann's early career and his relationship with J.S. Bach before he gets to the music heard here and to the circumstances under which Telemann became godfather to the other two composers. They bring the era alive in modern terms for those who read them closely -- they include the phrases "head-hunted" and "retail therapy," among other contemporary concepts. A marvelous performance throughout, as far as can be imagined from the dry-as-dust Telemann recordings that crowded shelves for so many years.
Rachel Moss, baroque flute
Susanne Heinrich, pardessus & bass viol
Reiko Ichise, bass viol
Kah-Ming Ng, harpsichord & chamber organ
G. Ph. Telemann: Concerto à Flauto traverso, Viola di gamba, Fagotto e cembalo
Georg Philipp Kress: Trio à Flauto traversieur, Viola d'amour col Basso Continuo
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Arioso per il cembalo e violino
G. Ph. Telemann: Sonata à Flauto traverso, due Viole di gamba et Cembalo
G. Ph. Telemann: Fünfzehnte und Sechzehnte Lection des Getreuen Music-Meisters, 1728. Viola di Gamba, senza Cembalo
Georg Philipp Kress: Trio à Flauto traverso, Viola di gamba e Cembalo
C.Ph.E. Bach: Fantasia sopra Jesu meines Lebens Leben
G. Ph. Telemann: Sonata à 4. Flauto traverso, due Viole di gamba et Cembalo