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GRAMOPHONE (11/2019)
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Telemann’s Garden Product Image

Code-barres / Barcode : 827949074967


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Reviewer: Mark Seow

In conversation with the New York Times in 2008, Alan Gilbert remarked that just ‘because you can give a title to a program doesn’t make it a good program … By the same token, a program that doesn’t necessarily have a name or a stated, expressible theme is not necessarily an un-thought-out idea’. The compulsion to thematise everything unfortunately reached the classical music recording industry long ago. It strikes nauseating heights with this disc, supposedly a ‘stunningly beautiful and colourful world of Telemann’s musical garden’. I can just about buy this. But Elephant House Quartet spin out the metaphor long after it deserves to be spun: the recording is a ‘musical bouquet which is balanced and colourful just like flowers from Telemann’s garden; some perfumed profoundly in a fashionable French style, some rooted closely in his native German style’. Truth be told, these pieces have nothing to do with our gardening composer. They are simply a collection of nice pieces by Telemann: the theme is unnecessary and does more to irritate than it does to cohere.

Ludicrous theme and introduction to the booklet notes aside, this disc has glorious moments of music-making. After an underwhelming Lentement for solo harpsichord – not all CDs need to prelude out of silence, another structural gimmick that I would happily axe here – the recording really gets going. The Suite No 5 in A minor is entirely delightful, full of character and charm. Recorder player Bolette Roed’s sound is completely intoxicating. Gambist Reiko Ichise plays with both nimble ferocity and exhilarating resonance. The treatment of Telemann’s strange metric moments in the Vivace could be stranger still: Elephant House Quartet pass these volatile changes of time signature by as if nothing remotely weird has happened. But this is music that precisely shouldn’t sound like a stroll through a garden.

The disc intersperses the works for ensemble with solo movements that cast spotlights on the individual members of the quartet and the unique timbres of their instruments, though some of the spotlights lack shine. I’m not sure what purpose violinist Aureliusz Golin´ski’s cadenza before the B minor Siciliana seeks to serve: it is out of place and takes away from the sublime simplicity of Telemann’s opening. The Siciliana itself lacks dance: Golin´ski’s phrases are glued in legato. Very little is done in terms of hierarchy or G-string resonance to bring out Telemann’s counterpoint. An album scattered with the wonderful and the bland.


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