Next week, continuing their progress from publishing “reprints” to producing “originals,” Brilliant Classics will release two delightful albums, each devoted to a single Baroque composer, one familiar and the other less well known.
The more familiar composer is Georg Philipp Telemann, contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach. Unlike Bach, who spent his entire musical career in service to either court or church, most of Telemann’s work took place in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, making him one of the first notable musicians to make a career as a free agent. Telemann and Bach were friends; and he was both godfather and namesake of Bach’s best known son, Carl Philipp Emanuel.
The new Telemann release, which is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com or, for those who cannot wait, download from iTunes, is a generous five-CD collection. For all the virtues of this album, there are a few caveats that should probably be addressed first. Most important is the somewhat deceptive nature of the cover. As can be seen above, the title is presented in capital letters as Compete Concertos & Trio Sonatas. Anyone familiar with the Telemann-Werke-Verzeichnis should immediately be skeptical, since there are several hundred compositions that can be classified as either concertos or trio sonatas.
At this point the astute reader will probably notice the “fine print” following the capital letters “with viola da gamba.” This collection is actually a showcase for the skillful and highly engaging gamba work of Cristiano Contadin, performing with the members of the Opera Prima Ensemble. Most of the selections come from the TWV 42 volume of chamber music for two instruments with continuo (which would include trio sonatas); and many of these entries do not include specific instrumentation. On the other hand the gamba is named explicitly as the solo instrument in the TWV 55:D6 suite in D major. Thus, a title such as Cristiano Contadin: My Favorite Telemann might be more accurate, even if it is a bit too informal.
The other caveat is that, while all of these works are multi-movement compositions, each is allotted a single track on the CD. This is, at worst, a minor inconvenience. All of Telemann’s movements tend to be short and are never any the less sweet for their brevity. As Brilliant Classics has produced these CDs, it is generally easier to for the listener to select a specific composition. Since each of the pieces can easily be savored for its own merits, the track allocation is probably more advantage than disadvantage.
Indeed, there is more than enough to savor in this collection. I would be hard pressed to find a false note anywhere in these five hours of music. If Bach was at his most prolific when writing sacred music, Telemann’s greatest virtues can be found in the abundance of his instrumental music; and both composers may be equally admired for uncovering so much diversity over the course of so much music. Contadin’s agile and expressive performing is frequently matched by solo work for Opera Prima musicians, particularly those playing violin and flute. Thus, beyond any quibbles, this is definitely a welcome addition to the Brilliant Classics catalog.
The other new release is a single CD presenting the seven Concerti a quattro by Baldassare Galuppi. Galuppi was actually a contemporary of Emanuel Bach, but he is still better associated with the Baroque period than with the younger Bach’s more transitional style. He was also more distinguished as a vocal composer of both opera and sacred music, although he also had a reputation as a keyboardist performing his own music. However, if Galuppi’s approach is primarily rooted in the Baroque practices of his elders, the Concerti a quattro constitute a foreshadowing of the string quartet that would emerge during the Classical period.
As with the Telemann release, this new album is available for pre-order from Amazon.com or for download from iTunes. In this case the title, Concertos for Strings, is not quite as deceptive, even if it does not quite capture the significance of these seven Concerti a quattro in the broader flow of music history. The performers are the members of the Ensemble StilModerno, and their approach to each of the seven concertos is crisp and expressive. Each concerto is allotted three tracks, although four of the concertos have slow-fast opening movements. Thus it may be more accurate to describe each of these as a four-movement sonata da chiesa. However, this is a minor point. More important is the value of this album in providing a thoroughly enjoyable listening account of the gestation (if not the birth) of the Classical string quartet.