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Music for bassoon, harpsichord and double bass -

'... an outright "tour de force".'

The Gallant Bassoon. © 2009 Melba Recordings

As early as 1721, German music theorist Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) recognized an early post-baroque style, 'einem galanten Stylo' and named among its leading practitioners Giovanni Bononcini, Antonio Caldara, Georg Philipp Telemann and operatic composers we might consider baroque: Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel.

Whether The Galant Bassoon is strictly 'galante' is for you to decide. Classicist Mozart's birth and Telemann's demise were eleven years apart and Telemann outlived J S Bach by seventeen years.

In any event the Wilkie trio's six-item CD programme is comprised almost entirely of transcriptions; the works by the Bachs -- Johann Sebastian and his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, are rearranged from flute sonatas; while two of three sonatas by Telemann were originally intended for viola da gamba.

The remaining work, Telemann's Sonata in F minor TWV41; most commonly heard with treble recorder and basso continuo, is from his first music periodical, Der getreue Music-Meister (1728-29, containing seventy compositions).

Melba Recordings invariably turn out a handsome product and The Galant Bassoon is no exception. For one thing these artists are diversely experienced, their musical accreditation never in question.

For a time Matthew Wilkie was resident in Hamburg studying with Klaus Thunemann; a bassoon tutor at Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler (Berlin), the International Institute of Chamber Music (Madrid), and Reina Sofía School of Music. He appeared with the South West German Chamber Orchestra, Württemburg Chamber Orchestra and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. In 1986 he became principal bassoon in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and from 2000 principal with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Indian, UAE-born/Australian, Neal Peres da Costa taught at the Royal Academy and Trinity College of Music (London). He co-founded Florilegium, is currently a chamber music teacher at the annual International Early Music Course, Urbino (Italy) and head of Early Music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

After studies at Victorian College of the Arts, Kees Boersma travelled to his Netherlands birthplace for post-graduate studies at the Sweelinck Conservatorium (Amsterdam). He later spent two years with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, joining the Sydney Symphony as Principal Bass in 1990.

Telemann's short Sonata in E minor (TWV41:e5) starts the ball rolling with a brief, somewhat dour cantabile. The following allegro seems as much like an elementary étude as anything. But the pleasing recitative-arioso is just as the name suggests, and a concluding vivace is as jaunty as need be, considering what precedes it.

Bach senior's Sonata in E minor BWV1030 is contrastingly the longest item at a respectable 18+ minutes; eight minutes are given to the commodious opening andante alone. The following largo e dolce reveals the serene, imperturbable invention of which Bach is master after which BWV103O is wrapped up with an intricate two-part presto, busying both Wilkie and da Costa. Listen for Bach's change of tack with a passing cadenza-like flourish (1'30"-2'00").

Listen -- J S Bach: Presto (BWV1030)
(track 7, 1:09-2:15) © 2009 Melba Recordings

In the A minor sonata, Telemann follows the familiar sonata di chiesa (slow-fast-slow-fast) pattern, beginning with a melancholic largo, promptly thrown into contrast by a perky 1¾ minute allegro. The third movement, marked soave, is appropriately placid and a blithe final allegro reveals Wilkie at his most adept.

Hard on its heels is an A minor sonata (BWV1034) from Bach; an artistically demanding work dedicated to Potsdam flutist Michael Gabriel Fredersdorff, an employee of the flute-loving King Frederick the Great. Today this work is variously recorded with flute, recorder, guitar (and bassoon).

Kees Boersma's steady bass tread gives the opening adagio ma non tanto an aura of the inexorable while Wilkie once more demonstrates flawless rapid passagework in the allegro that follows. In the ensuing andante da Costa has the first twenty-seven seconds to himself while the balance of the movement shows the composer at his most plaintive. A final allegro requires greater overt bassoon virtuosity than anything else on the 'Galant' concert disc.

Once more we're switched to a Telemann (TWV41:f1) Sonata -- this time in F minor. This work turns up contrastingly as Cello Sonata in D, TWV41:D6 (Lyrichord Early Music Series, 1997) with Douglas McNames (cello) and the Melomanie Ensemble, an early music group based in Wilmington, Delaware.

Listen -- Telemann: Triste (TWV41:f1)
(track 16, 0:00-0:43) © 2009 Melba Recordings

Here, on Melba, its opening movement is marked triste, and in describing it as 'lugubrious', note-writer Rob Dyball hits the nail on the head. Following the jolly allegro from all three players, Telemann splices in a gorgeous andante -- I find myself wishing this efficacious repose lasted somewhat longer than 1'52". Instead the trio romps through the vivace finish with evident enjoyment.

Whereas Bach (J S) and Telemann have plenty in common, C P E Bach's style is markedly different as evident in the Flute Sonata in A minor H562/Wq 132 (transposed for bassoon to D minor). Harpsichordist da Costa and bass Boersma are left in the green room as Wilkie alone enriches the glorious, exploratory-sounding poco adagio with dignified, stellar control.

Then CPEB, an acknowleged founder of Classical style, catches us off guard by concluding with successive solo allegros. First of the two startlingly original movements is both busy and congenial while the final allegro re-affirms Wilkie's performance as an outright tour de force.

Listen -- C P E Bach: Allegro (III) (Wq 132)
(track 22, 2:25-3:28) © 2009 Melba Recordings

After CPEB heard remarkable blind flutist Friedrich Ludwig Dülon play the sonata, he decided it was too hard for the dedicatee, King Frederick the 'Great' of Prussia. Dülon was an associate of Johann George Tromlitz (1725-1805), principal flautist of the Leipzig Grosses Konzert from 1754 until 1776, flute-maker and author of The Virtuoso Flute-Player (1791). In 1784 Dülon joined in concerts Tromlitz held at his home.

Note that the Guinness Book of World Records lists Telemann as the most prolific composer of all time, with more than eight hundred credited compositions. But thematic catalogues of his output, dating from the 1980s and 90s, indicate that Telemann actually wrote over three thousand compositions, many of them now lost.

Further study is available in the comprehensive biography of Telemann written by Richard Petzoldt, published in East Germany as Georg Philipp Telemann -- Leben und Werk, Leipzig, VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1967, and translated by Horace Fitzpatrick for the 1974 English edition, Georg Philipp Telemann, London, Benn (1974). Petzoldt describes the numerical system -- Telemann-Werke-Verzeichnis / TWV (Telemann Works Catalogue) published by Martin Ruhnke.

More reliable still are newer publications such as Joachim Kremer's richly documented Das norddeutsche Kantor'at im 18 Jahrhundert (1995), and Annemarie Clostermann's Das Hamburger Musikleben und Georg Philipp Telemanns Wirken in den Jahren 1721 bis 1730 (2000).

Copyright © 8 August 2009 Howard Smith,
Masterton, New Zealand









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