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Tempesta di Mare: Telemann vs. BachBY: Tom Purdom 10.27.2009
George Philip Telemann, the also-ran of Baroque composers, goes up against the heavyweight champ (Bach) and scores a rare knockout.
Tempesta di Mare: Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 1; Muffat, “Nobilis Juventus,” from Florilegium Secundum; Fasch, Concerto in G; Telemann, Concerto in F. Emlyn Ngai, concertmaster; Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone, artistic directors. October 24, 2009 at St. Mark’s Church, 1625 Locust St. (215) 755-8776 or www.tempestadimare.org.
Score one for the underdogTOM PURDOM
Am I the only person who has sat through musical interludes that made me feel we should reconsider our obsessive focus on great composers?
Many pieces work their way onto programs because of a general feeling that every work composed by a giant should be performed now and then. But the best work of a lesser composer may be better than the weakest work of a certifiable genius. We might be better served if music organizations scheduled more topflight work by lesser composers and fewer minor works by the established brand names.
Tempesta di Mare provided some support for my view this week when it matched concertos by Bach and George Philipp Telemann on the same program— and Telemann walked away with the prize.
Rated above Bach, back then
Telemann, as all Baroque aficionados know, is one of music’s great also-rans. In his own day he was actually rated above Bach. When Bach applied for the coveted kapellmeister job at the Thomas Church in Leipzig, according to a famous story, Telemann was the church’s first choice. Bach got the job because Telemann was committed elsewhere.
Time has reversed that judgment. Bach is now considered one of the towering geniuses of Western music. Telemann is remembered mostly because his prolific output has become a staple of today’s Baroque and period instrument revival.
This season, Tempesta di Mare is including one or two of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos in every concert. The Baroque group opened the evening with the first Brandenburg and finished with a Concerto in F by Telemann (TWV 54:F1 in Telemann’s voluminous catalogue). It was a fair contest: The two pieces are scored for similar combinations of instruments, and both require large orchestras by Baroque standards, complete with woodwinds and horns.
Bach on an off-day
Telemann, on the other hand, was operating right at the top of his form when he penned his entry. It’s warm and charming— like much of Telemann’s work— and endlessly creative.
Like a jam session
The Concerto in F owes much of its charm to the fact that Telemann set it up like a jam session, with solos for all the lead players, and interludes for interesting combos. In the first example of a bouncy bourée dance movement, cellist Eve Miller got a high-speed solo and joined in a combination sequence with violinists Emlyn Ngai and Karin Fox.
In the second bourée, bassoonist Marilyn Boenau got a rare turn in the spotlight, with a nice exhibition of the quieter sound of a Baroque bassoon. Natural horns dominated the minuet. The heavy thump of the plucked bass added to the jam session atmosphere in a passage that teamed the bass and woodwinds.
Tempesta’s musicians clearly had a good time, too. The concerto may have been completely scripted, but they radiated spontaneity.
The Telemann was the longest piece on the program, and it ended too soon. The decision of that 18th-Century hiring committee at the Thomas Church may seem ridiculous today when you listen to a masterpiece like Bach’s Mass in B Minor. But TWV:54 F1 proves the committee members could muster some arguments on their side.♦
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