Musica Antiqua, Köln records Telemann Flute Quartets, (p) 2005 DG Archiv. Violinist Reinhard Goebel groups both Maurice Steger, recorder, and Verena Fischer, flute, together for works by Telemann for strings and flute. All works from the TWV 42 cycle on a 70+minute CD. Let me first get-off my chest what I didn't like about the recording: nothing, in particular, but the booklet left a lot to be desired. After the opening listing of tracks, all we get is gratuitous remarks about MAK and their decades-long recording career of Telemann works. Half the booklet is this dribble, and then the essay isn't even by Goebel. Such a strong release deserves a good booklet essay. We do learn that these "sonatas" are in the style of "concertos," but then again, these designations are hardly ever steadfast and constant... why don't we ever get commentary by performers on which works are hardest to perform, or why they like certain ones? MAK excels in the area of chamber music, and despite their rosters changing considerably over the years, their best recordings were from the 1980s with their Brandenburg Concertos and Art of Fugue. I am glad to see this return to chamber repertoire after several successful large-ensemble recordings. These works pair basso continuo against violin, viola, two violins, oboe and violin, etc.: you get the picture, there's a lot of variety in scoring. But likewise, there's a lot of variety in personnel. In the opening work, Goebel is on viola, in the second, Schardt's on violin, in the third, Goebel on violin. It's interesting to listen, for instance, to the d-minor, four-movement sonata for transverse flute and violin (Goebel), to the sound he produces... is this the same sound he'd have had in 1990? 1980? He's started as a violinist who first emerged with a thin tone, and some inconsistencies in pitch, to (by the late 1980s) the best baroque violinist I'd ever heard, with a tone so rich and fat you felt yourself watching calories... his attacks, sound, and interpretive choices seemed (for me at least) dead-on. Here in the d-minor work that wonderful violin sound is back, but I can't help but think it's not the same played backwards (Goebel now bows with his left hand) as it used to be... this changes the sound world somewhat of his ensemble, and especially so with his playing. His playing, while different, is totally competent. For my taste, I would like to hear more of his playing... for my ears, the cello was too far pronounced in balance, the flute even overbearing the violin... the tempos chosen keep everyone busy, and Telemann's music, while not as "rich" as that of Bach, is always enjoyable, listen-"able," and this sentiment is true not only for the d-minor work, but for the whole disc. The G-major work, with Goebel again on violin is at one point very modern sounding, at another, old fashioned with a 2nd-movement fugue. The final movement of this work had my turning my head at one point, there's a sour note in there somewhere, I think by the cellist. If I am missing anything so far from the CD, it's the fact that tempos are so "regular." Dynamics seem a tad consistent, too. Telemann is a composer whose works shine with moments of dynamic interplay that only underscore the richness of his harmonies and melodic lines. MAK here is less aware, it seems, of these nuances than in their most excellent recording of Telemann's Tafelmusik, but these works are nonetheless played well, I'm only nitpicking, of course. Again, in the A-minor work (TWV 43 a3), strong contributions are to be heard from oboe (Diego Nadra), recorder, but where's the violin to come wash over their already loud sounds? I am not sure if Goebel needs closer miking or what, but there's excellent playing going on that's being missed! The short second movement is quick to fly by, but technically very exciting. The next movement has these little stabs from the bass.. I almost wished at this point we were afforded some variety in continuo; perhaps solo cello here would have made things a tad more soft--matching the character of the music? Again, I'm half-ashamed to complain, but... soon enough the last movement comes in, and I'm reminded I've heard this elsewhere? It's all played very well, and finally the violin is on top... Some very difficult recorder playing in this last movement is simply showing off for Mr. Stegner, but he shows off very well. I'll comment on one more work... a quartet for 2 violins, transverse flute, all in the sunny key of G. What makes it a difficult work is that the two violins are locked-in for a lot of passage work while the flute dances on top. The Vivace is taken at such a pace to make this all very daring. MAK pulls it off... I only wish they'd slow down from time to time to take in Telemann's cadences. As I listen to the earlier Allegro, I am reminded I have this recording--this work at least--by Collegium Musicum 90. They take this movement faster, and yet, while their version doesn't sound rushed, perhaps the MAK version does? Perhaps it's those interlocking violin lines that make it sound so concerted... it's a different feeling for the movement, no one better or worse than the other. MAK do sound more aggressive than CM90. In the end, this is an excellent release by MAK, showing off their prowess as excellent interpreters of chamber music. The fact that rich, and musically-fat Telemann is to be heard, is for the better... perhaps as the liner-note/advertising says, MAK and Telemann are a good match. There's plenty to enjoy, and for me, only one repeat (work) with a catalog (my collection) well-stocked already with Telemann. A highly-recommended release from MAK by your most humble Fan of Biber.
Originally published in May, 2005.