Nicholas Ward and the Manchester-based Northern Chamber Orchestra perform three particularly attractive orchestral suites from an almost daunting legacy of some 130 such pieces from Telemann’s pen. Ward directs the modern-instrument band from his position as first violin, securing tidy ensemble and maintaining buoyant rhythms. The least performed of the Suites is La changeante, framed by the key of G minor. Ward brings plenty of charm and some graceful gesture to the dances, yet too often underplays their character. Better this, by far, than those occasionally encountered mannerisms which exaggerate the importance of Telemann’s sometimes elusive subtitles; but some of this playing strikes my ears as just a little too serious.
The Overture des nations anciens et modernes, like La changeante, is scored for strings and continuo. This is a delicious piece, full of witty contrasts, and prefaced by one of Telemann’s most supple French overtures, one indeed, that also served as overture to his comic opera, Der geduldige Socrates. The performance fails either to convey fully its nobility or to capitalize upon the radiance of Telemann’s affable harmonies; but the playing is anything but lifeless, and repeats are scrupulously observed.
While these two Suites probably date from Telemann’s early years in Hamburg or even, in the case of Les nations, slightly earlier, the remaining Suite in D major belongs to the very last years of his life. Scored for woodwind, two horns and strings it possesses some of the hallmarks of early classicism, demonstrating not only the octogenarian Telemann’s fluency with a newly emerging idiom but also a certain flair for it, a flair that reached perfect fruition, perhaps, in his dramatic cantata Ino (1765). As before, the playing is rhythmic and sympathetic but too lacking either in wit or esprit.
In summary, an attractive release which does not, however, realize the music’s full potential to entertain. But the playing is so good that I know I shall be listening to it again before too long.'