Monday, May 29, 2017

Telemann Concertos for Lots of Different Instruments

The latest release on harmonia mundi of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin ensemble will be out this coming Friday. This is a group that has provided me with abundant hours of enjoyable listening experiences, many of which have been translated into my own meagre writing skills to the best of my abilities. Those familiar with how impressive an ensemble this is are likely to want to take advantage of the usual opportunity to pre-order through; and, for those who have not yet heard the group, pre-order may prove just as advantageous.

The album consists entirely of music by Georg Philipp Telemann collected under the general title Concerti per molti stromenti, given a somewhat vernacular translation in the title of this article. Those who have not seen the Telemann-Werke-Verzeichnis (Telemann works catalog, abbreviated TWV) are probably not aware of how much larger it is than the catalog of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The first volume (TWV 1), which consists only of the sacred cantatas, has 1860 entries; and the total number of volumes is 55, along with an appendix volume.

The concertos are distributed across four volumes. TWV 51 has 23 concertos for solo instrument and orchestra. The 28 concertos for two instruments and orchestra are collected in TWV 52, and the seventeen for three instruments are in TWV 53. Those involving more solo instruments are in TWV 54, which has only nine entries. Most of the selections on this new recording are from TWV 53 and TWV 54. However, there are also “concertos” from TWV 44, the volume of chamber music involving four or more instruments with basso continuo. This album is more interested in imaginative combinations of instruments than it is in which pieces have been categorized where.

The most interesting of those instruments is likely to be the mandora (called “calchedon” on this album and also known as “galizona” or “gallichon”). This is a long-necked lute, whose vibrating string length tends to be at least 70 centimeters. The program book includes a photograph with three points of view:

photograph by Rolf Mäder, courtesy of PIAS

The number of strings (courses) can vary; but Telemann included tuning specific for a six-course instrument. It was used as a continuo instrument, but only to play the bass line, rather than any realizations of figured bass chords. In TWV 53:h1 (B minor) concerto, it is one of the solo instruments; and it contributes to the continuo in the TWV 44:43 concerto in B-flat major. As might be guessed, one of the TWV 54 concertos (the first selection on the album) involves three trumpets (Ute Hartwich, Martin Patscheider, and Christian Gruber) and timpani (Francisco Manuel Anguas Rodriguez); and it definitely makes for a dazzling beginning. The most unique of the TWV 53 concertos is the one with solo parts for mandolin (Anna Torge), hammered dulcimer (Elisabeth Seitz), and harp (Margret Köll). No leader is specified for any of the concertos. Presumably, each concerto is led from the concertmaster’s chair, occupied by Georg Kallweit in all performances.

Listening to this album took me back to my student days of listening to DeKoven Presents on the radio. Seymour DeKoven, who insisted on being called only DeKoven (“please skip the Sir or Mister”), restricted his broadcasting repertoire to music from the baroque and rococo periods, which he would call “barococo.” In all likelihood, his enthusiasm considerably outweighed his scholarship; but, because he relied heavily on Musical Heritage Society recordings, his selections tended to be period-faithful with impressive consistency.

His enthusiasm was best expressed by his evaluative terms for high quality. One could not tune in without hearing at least one recording described as OTW (for “out of this world”); and usually there would be at least one “Super OTW” recording included each week. His Wikipedia page also includes OTG (out of this galaxy), OTU (out of this universe), and OTC (out of this cosmos). Personally, I do not recall his using any of these; but they were definitely stock-in-trade among my fellow students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he had a major fan base. He would definitely have called Concerti per molti stromenti a Super OTW album, and probably would have given it an even higher rating.

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