United Kingdom Telemann 250th Anniversary Concert: Florilegium [Marta Goncalves (flute); Bojan Cicic, Magdalena Loth-Hill (violins); Elitsa Bogdanova (viola); Jennifer Motsches (cello); Reiko Ichise (viola da gamba); Carina Cosgrove (double-bass); Pawel Siwczak (harpsichord/chamber organ)] / Ashley Solomon (flute/director) with Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano). Wigmore Hall, London, 25.6.2017. (CC)
Telemann – Suite in E minor, Tafelmusik Part I TWV55:e1; Sonata in A, TWV4:A6; Cantata, Ihr Völker hört, TWV:921; Quartet in E minor, TWV43:e4, ‘Paris’; Corellisende Sonata in A, TWV42:a5; Solo Fantasia No.9 in E, TWV40:10; Tafelmusik Part I, TWV50:5, Conclusion in E minor
This concert happily celebrated Telemann’s 250th anniversary on the exact day he died (25 June, 1767). There was a change of soloist: Clare Wilkinson, the original singer, was indisposed and her place was taken by the excellent Helen Charlston. It was rather nice to see that her bio insert begins with a quote from a review on MusicWeb International by John Quinn (a disc of music by Ešenwalds). She was last seen on Seen & Heard International in my review of Handel’s Jephtha at St John’s, Smith Square in May this year.
First, though, we heard the Suite in E minor that starts the first of Tafelmusik’s three “productions” (the Conclusion that closed the concert was from the same production). What struck the listener first was the warmth of Florilegium’s sound, inviting the audience into Telemann’s rather special world. I have long stuck by my guns that Telemann has unfairly languished in the shadows of Bach and Handel, and it was good to hear an evening of his music showing just how consistent and high was his level of invention. The E minor Suite included some imaginative scoring in the gallante Rondeau, just as the ensuing Loure was surprisingly texturally diverse.
The A major Sonata for solo violin and continuo comes from Telemann’s Essercizii Musici collection. Given with plenty of style by Ashley Solomon, it was the aria-like Grave section that really impressed despite the evident virtuosity of the rapid finale (a Vivace). But the clear highlight of the concert was the Epiphany Cantata Ihr Völker hört, which found Helen Charlston on top form, her diction clarion clear, her ability to cope with Telemann’s florid writing never in doubt. In a short speech at the outset of the concert, Ashley Solomon referred to this cantata as Telemann’s “most spectacular.” It is indeed a glorious piece, and was beautifully sung. The idea of light, specifically from the star that guided the Wise Men to Christ (the star itself a symbol of Christ), is an important part of the text’s symbolism; the Cantata comprises two arias separated by a recitative. Charlston was just as attentive to the central recitative as she was to the surrounding arias, shading it beautifully. Telemann’s melodic invention in the arias seems unending, and this sense of the sheer joy in music itself extended to the performers in the present performance. Superb music, superbly performed.
The second half began with a Quartet for flute, violin, viola da gamba (the superb Reiko Ichise) and harpsichord. This E minor quartet is the final offering from Telemann’s “New Paris Quartets”; even the movement titles are in French. The virtuoso violin part was on occasion matched by Ichise’s contributions. The compositional mastery here reaches Bachian proportions. The “Corellisirende” Sonata, one of six, is an homage to Corelli, finding a purity of writing that invites in beautiful dialogue from the two violins (Solomon and Loth-Hill, on this occasion). The bright finale is an absolute joy.
For the Flute Sonata, Solomon gave us a real rarity: he played it on the porcelain flute (with engravings in gold!) by Meissen which actually belonged to King George III. It is, we were told, heavy to play and is only one of two in existence (the other is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York). Vibrant and warm in tone, the dynamic range of the flute is far less than a modern instrument but it is intrinsically hyper-beautiful. It is demeaning to suggest it sounds a little like a panpipe, but not half as demeaning as the mobile phone buzzer that went off during the performance. Solomon’s affection for both flute and Sonata was palpably clear, though.
Finally, we heard the “Conclusion” in E minor, a magnificent piece of writing. The opening Allegro opens out beautifully, into wonderfully florid writing. There was an encore: an apt choice, albeit not Telemann, a movement from the aptly named “Florilegium” Suite No.2 in G minor by Georg Moffat. But it was Telemann who was honoured this evening; and honoured he was, in style. Maybe his time is coming?