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The concerto for mixed (or multiple or several) instruments is a fascinating musical sub-genre that has been curiously sidelined in the history books. Yet by allowing composers to experiment with all kinds of instrumental colours, it has produced some of the most striking and attractive music of the 18th century – from Bach’s Brandenburgs at one end, to Mozart’s flute and harp concerto at the other. That Telemann was among the most skillful and prolific composers of such concertos is evident from La Stagione Frankfurt’s latest series of recordings. Bringing these works together on disc, possibly for the first time, really underlines their astonishing variety.

Telemann’s renowned ability to mix elements of French, Italian and Polish styles is matched here by his flair for mixing diverse timbral palettes, whether in the colourful contrasts of horns, violins, recorder, oboe and cellos of the F major concerto (TWV 54:F1, Vol.4) or in the subtle blends of flute, oboe d’amore and viola d’amore in the lovely E major concerto (TWV 53:E1, Vol.1). This concerto is an absolute masterpiece, with an exquisite opening Andante that depicts an Arcadian sunrise, and a lamenting Siciliano, in which each of the soloists takes a turn with the melody while the remaining pair play delicate cascades of tears in the background. There could hardly be a clearer illustration of Steven Zohn’s argument that ‘Telemann’s apparent distaste for virtuosity as an end in itself . . . led him to develop his own stylistic paradigm for the concerto, one that tended to downplay soloistic display in favour of close dialogue and mixed-taste cosmopolitanism.’

Numerous alluring examples of Telemann’s interest in close dialogue occur across these four discs. The second volume features a witty concerto for a pair of lively violins and a droll bassoon (TWV 53:D4); the third has a splendid ‘hunting’ concerto for three horns and violin (TWV 54:D2), clearly indebted to Vivaldi, as well as a relatively late (mid-1730s) and utterly beguiling concerto for two flutes, violin and cello (TWV 54:D1) that reveals Telemann’s mastery of the emerging galant style.

There are also a handful of gloriously festive concertos, notably one for two trumpets and two oboes (TWV deest, Vol.1), probably composed for a wedding, and one for three trumpets, timpani and two oboes (TWV 54:D3, Vol.3), which Telemann employed to preface a Serenata, performed in Frankfurt in 1716 at a spectacular outdoor concert to celebrate the birth of Archduke Leopold of Austria.

Many of these concertos were probably composed for similar one-off events, or for one-off gatherings of specialist virtuosi, which perhaps explains why they were never published in Telemann’s lifetime and why they were subsequently so neglected. Hopefully, La Stagione Frankfurt’s ongoing series (Vol.5 is due next year) will ensure these marvellous works finally receive the acclaim they deserve. Telemann could hardly have wished for more ideal advocates: expert soloists and polished ensembles, all finely tuned to the music’s expansive range of moods and textures, from mellow Adagio to exuberant Vivace, stirring fanfares and elegant counterpoint to zestful, scampering dances that make you glad to be alive.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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