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GRAMOPHONE (October / 2017)
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Resonus Classics

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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

As if playing such a ravishing instrument were not enough, exponents of the viola da gamba must be feeling especially blessed at the moment. The reason? Well, in 2015 it was announced that the 12 solo fantasias Telemann is known to have published in 1735, but of which no copy seemed to have survived, had been rediscovered in the Lower Saxony State Archive. Gamba folk surely cannot have believed their luck, especially when the music itself turned out to have all the qualities one expects of Telemann, which is to say attractiveness, elegance, variety, skilful construction and ideal fitness to its instrument, making these fantasias perfect partners to his similar sets for solo flute and violin.  

The first modern edition appeared last year, as did the first recording, by Thomas Fritzsch (Coviello, 6/16). Charlotte Gardner enjoyed Fritzsch’s ‘natural, joy-filled’ playing but was rightly unsettled by the grunts and squeaks of an intrusively close recording. There is no such irritation with this new version by the British gambist Robert Smith, which unfolds in a kindly acoustic in which clarity and bloom are allowed just the right balance. The playing, too, is a treat, sent into the world via a sound that is mellow and silvery but never thin or wispy. Few of the movements are longer than three minutes but Smith navigates Telemann’s fleeting moods with assurance and focus – whether in the concentrated harmonies of a grave slow movement or in the sprightly dancelike release of an allegro finale – and finds tellingly timed rhetorical space between phrases. Double-stoppings are here used relatively sparingly for solo viol music but are executed with smoothness and clarity.  

There will be more recordings to come – Richard Boothby and Paolo Pandolfo are among those who have been on the case already – but these works demand to be heard now, and Smith’s performances serve them perfectly well.

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