Michael Sneider and his colleagues from both La Stagione Frankfurt and Camerata Köln released in 2012 on CPO their final installment of concertos by Telemann featuring wind instruments. The colors and styles vary, with flutes, trumpet, oboes, horns, and oboe d'amore. The ensemble's latest releases had received a very warm review by Johan van Veen and so I picked up 3 CDs from the series.
I do not own a lot by Sneider with his Frankfurt ensemble, but I am quite familiar with his playing as soloist and as co-leader with his colleagues from Camerata Köln. As I suspected, the playing is crisp and well done; both the winds and ensemble sound are top-rate, I'd say in general terms the playing is of a higher quality than another ensemble that has recorded a lot of Telemann, Collegium Musicum 90. The recorded sound is clearer, and the intepretations tend to be a little more lively and nuanced.
That said, I listened to these works in the context of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Bach used some of these same instruments, although he chose more Venetian models in 3-movements (with exceptions of course in #1 and #3). Telemann liked the 4-movement model. But Telemann's writing, no matter the number of movements, it simpler and less complex than Bach's. For some, that might mean his pieces are easier to listen to. For me, they sometimes go to a bland side that I stop listening. For that reason, they'd make great musique de table - background for eating and feasting. (I should admit that his collection under that title features examples that are far better-written than the average of what we find on this release.)
It may be unfair to judge Telemann's concertos with Bach's as anything having to do with the performer's interpretations. But that's where I feel things could have been improved. La Stagione does well with its horn players (they are fiesty enough to paint smiles on my face, with whiffs of the hunt), but the slow movement in the F-major concerto is simply academic compared to the outer fast movements. You either have to admit that Telemann wrote in boredom with the more fun stuff, or else it is up to the performers to make wine from the water.
One of my favorite ensembles, of whom some of these performers were intimately associated, Musica Antiqua Köln, were a little more heavy-handed with interpretation. And not to have the final word, Il Giardino Armonico had a quite heavy-hand in their recording of Handel's 6th opus. But that's why I keep going back to IGA's Handel, it's perhaps not at all what Handel may have had the capacity to produce in 1745, but today, it's very tantilizing.
In the end, I am happy to add these readings to my collection, as I do not have all of these concertos by Telemann. And they are well played. But there are elements of virtuosity missing, not added by Telemann, but the potential each soloist or director has for interpretation. For this, these volumes make excellent study volumes should you find the scores, but as with so much baroque music, there is more emotional depth beyond the page for which a future ensemble has a chance of bringing out.
The second track versus the twenty-first makes my point. Given the fast tempo and a lot of notes, the ensemble is totally engaging and makes first class music. We'd be hard pressed to want any more. The slow movement near the end of the disc sits flat, in comparison. While the same type of drama isn't there in the music, there is a little more room for interestingness.
I am really splitting hairs. If you like Telemann, or want to expand your concept of him as a prolific baroque composer, this series, if not this CD, may offer you something rewarding.