Sato came to my attention through a video of him performing with Richard Egarr of the AAM. I later caught him leading the orchestra with the Netherlands Bach group that's behind the All of Bach series of recordings (which I love, by the way!). To my knowledge, this is his first baroque album as a soloist, and in it, he's playing an historical instrument (or copy). I should point out that his training and experience has included more modern repertoire, too.
Telemann was a prolific composer, and with the same fate of his acquaintance Bach, a lot of his music was lost. They lived during similiar time periods and crossed paths. From what we can tell, they were friendly enough with one another. Telemann was likely seen as the more successful musician in the day, at least when it came to composition. Telemann left us two collections of solo instrument music without bass, not counting his keyboard music. The recording here is for the violin fantasias, and there is another collection for flute.
I became familiar with these works through Andrew Manze in his recording on Harmonia Mundi. He added the Gulliver Suite to the end of the recording, which always stood out for me as the more curious part of the album, as program music.
Telemann's music is not all written for the same professional musicians that we'd say Bach's was... which has less to do with the quality of musicians around these two men than the purpose behind the music and each composer's pragmatic sensibilities. Many times I have questioned Bach's high standards and what it must have meant for the congregations in Leipzig. Telemann was the more pragmatic composer, knowing he could sell his compositions to more people if they were simpler, for amateurs. Historically we might compare his collection to Bach's Sonatas and Partitas, but putting the manuscripts on equal footing might not be as interesting to all music fans. Bach's is more complex, but it's also truly extraordinary music.
Telemann's is written almost in a phantasticus style, with each fantasia centered around a differnet key. He's far less formal about writing proper dances and instead juxtaposes a large number of palpable musical ideas.
I will admit that Telemann's music sometimes is written in such a way that a boring performance kills it, whereas with Bach, you know it's good, no matter how well it's played. But with the right interpretation, the Telemann comes alive. It reminds me of the girl in one of the Seinfeld episodes where in the right light she looked bad, in other light, she was beautiful.
Manze plays the Telemann well, but not well enough for me to have fallen in love with it. Sato, on the other hand, I believe brings the music out of the doldrums and is a tad less rustic than Manze. Comparisons aside, Sato is a polished player and his sound is well-captured in the recording. It's hard for me to believe this is his first solo baroque recording.
If I make another comparison, Sato reminds me somewhat of Riccard Minasi's playing. Both players will push out the full sound of their instruments when they need to, which is a polite way of saying they are not afraid to push hard and loud. For me, I like dynamic constrasts, and nothing comes off too rustic.
Among my favorites of Telemann are his Paris quartets, not to mention his Tafelmusik collection. The MAK recording of flute quartets is also comprised of great music. I can now say that with Sato's recording, I will be returning to his solo violin fantasias more often. I have found mixing them up with the likes of other composers and recordings (Bach, Westhoff, Biber) makes for an especially interesting personal recital.