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New, but Familiar (and Comfortable): Telemann: Violin Concerto

The MHS Review 404, VOL. 12, NO.8• 1988

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Frank Cooper


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Telemann's music reminds me of the sonic equivalent of a favorite armchair. Every feature of its topography con­tributing to one's ease, it beckons its owner to known pleasure--and is, in its way, ir­replaceably valuable. Unlike, say, 18th-­century armchairs of important pro­venance, craftsmanship, and condition (not to mention five-figure prices!), my old arm­chair cost very little, regularly has withstood a variety of postures, and re­quires little in the way of upkeep.

Likeable? Of course! Its role in society is understood even by people who might logically argue the greater value in preser­ving, studying, and exhibiting under max­imal conditions antique masterpieces--but who would never endorse their use as items of daily life in ordinary homes. Yet those same people are apt, where music is concerned, to see nothing wrong with us­ing only the greatest masterpieces of music as background sound to their lives. They use masterpieces not as objects for atten­tion, cogitation, and esthetic effect but the way I use my armchair--to be taken for granted. They play the Goldberg Variations or Art of Fugue by Bach or the late sym­phonies, sonatas, or quartets of Mozart or Beethoven at "discreet" volume to accom­pany household tasks, drives through traf­fic, or the prattling chatter of guests. And, to my annoyance, their only-the-best syn­drome causes them to sneer at the music of Telemann, music preeminently design­ed, at least in part, to provide a polite and elegant background to enhance people's lives.

Without, I hope, belaboring further the analogy between classes of furniture and music, let me urge the reader to consider obtaining the present release--even though its pieces probably have figured nowhere in your experience (and despite the fact that many of us are dubious about music we do not already know). Let's face it, Telemann's Violin Concerti have no place in the active repertoire of any big-time violinist known to me. They are neither the choice of local concertmasters when the occasional opportunity to perform as soloist comes along nor are they among the works studied by young performers in col­leges and conservatories. But, they are good!

Telemann was long considered Ger­many's greatest composer. During the baroque era, all of Europe knew and respected his works above those of Bach. Although the output was so vast that no collected edition has ever been possible, marvels from Telemann's pen do surface from time to time to amaze us by their mellifluous instrumental writing, heartfelt melodic expression, and polished form. What we discover with this release is a handful of "new" pieces, each of which seems immediately to be an old friend. Telemann's patterns of rhythm, harmony, cadence, melody, and ornament are part of our musical vocabulary-familiar and oh-so comfortable to one's ears. Nothing shocks, nothing grates. All is sheer delight.

One settles at once into the flow of this music in much the same way as into a favorite armchair. With wit, urbanity, and sophistication, Telemann entertains us, sometimes nodding to his predecessors Vivaldi (as in no. 9, with its three tiny fast-­slow-fast movements) and Corelli (as in no. 3, with its succession of short sections: Adagio--Allegro--Adagio--Allegro­--Grave--Vivace), and sometimes surprising us with his unexpected treatment of con­certi as though updating old-fashioned, four-movement church sonatas (as in nos. 4 and 8). By the way, until 1983 Telemann was given credit for no. 11, but it now seems to have come from one J.L. Horn (who knew his business, too).

Iona Brown, her continuo partners, and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields do full justice to these delectable scores. So, take advantage of their skills and treat yourself to some really wonderful armchair music. And, if guests come your way, let the music play on!

Review of Telemann: Violin Concerto See inside front cover

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