Telemann Fantasias for Solo Violin
The attraction of unaccompanied works such as these to performers in the mould of Maya Homburger, Peter Sheppard and Andrew Manze is easy to comprehend: the hidden depths expressed through freewheeling, quasi-spontaneous, instinctive quirks and asides pitched against formulated thought (the nature of most music which is written down). This is kaleidoscopic music, temperamentally in the same vein as Biber’s eight violin sonatas – even if those works have continuo – which Manze stunned us with last year (Harmonia Mundi, 2/95). If Biber is a rhetorician of unrivalled exhibitionism, Telemann is more sophisticated, less steeped in the vernacular (though carefully alluding to it) and ready to glance into his rich compendium of experience as the most cosmopolitan composer in 1735. Freed from a continuo battery, and therefore also a mutual rhythmic responsibility, we are left with musical potential of a rare kind; if we sense this with unaccompanied Bach – and Sheppard makes a similar point in his note – we are also aware of his weaving a thread of harmonic and rhythmic invention which reveals a pre-ordained edifice not always so improvisatory in outlook; the performer is rarely left entirely to his own devices as he is with Telemann.
Andrew Manze’s recording of the 12 Fantaisies marks the fourth version in as many years (Peter Sheppard’s and Maya Homburger’s are the two comparable versions on period instruments, the other, on a modern violin, is by Betina Maag Santos on Gallo, 8/94) and not surprisingly he brings a very definite and distinctive angle to them, one which we can hear from the outset delicately balances clarity of thought with the sense of restoring the lost art of extemporization. We have learnt to take virtuosity for granted with Manze – his remarkable feats allow the most prejudiced to forget that he is playing a baroque fiddle. But without such an instrument he could barely create such a biting astringency in the more self-effacing and tortured moments (Fantaisie No. 6) or a cultivated assurance and definition in articulation to the recognizably regular sections, such as Fantaisie No. 10, where Telemann is working in established forms – particularly in the latter works in the set where dance forms predominate.
If characterization is the key, Manze is arguably the most persuasive of all his rivals. He grows through phrases in the Gigue of the Fourth Fantaisie in a fashion which gives the work a peculiarly stoical strength, purrs through the contrapuntally conceived Fantaisies (Nos. 1-6 in particular) with nonchalant disdain for their often extreme technical demands and leaves sighs and pauses hanging with supreme eloquence. If Homburger brings some moments of keener grace and repose, then one must also recognize the robust integrity and humour of Sheppard’s accounts. But for sheer lucidity, breadth of imagination and colour, I am drawn again and again to Manze’s version; blessed as we are with several fine performances, he most acutely captures the sense of a famous public figure ensconced in a private world against the backdrop of a musical world in a state of flux. To add spice to an already outstanding release, we have the short and delightful Gulliver Suite for two violins where Manze is joined by Caroline Balding – trust Telemann to be up-to-the-mark only a year or two after