, July 2011
This is one of Bis’s 6 CDs for the price of 3 bargain collections. As a result it starts with a big advantage in the market for this repertoire. An air of added value has always been something associated with Dan Laurin’s recording of the Telemann 12 Fantasias for Flute Solo. Even in 1994 it came with a free bonus disc containing the Bach father and son Carl Philipp Emanuel A minor solo sonatas. These worked less well for me on the recorder, and one of the advantages the transverse flute has over the recorder is greater resonance in the lower registers. This means that the duality of the counterpoint is perhaps a little less evenly balanced with the recorder. With Telemann’s Fantasias there is so much else going on that this is arguably less of an issue. Flute players of all kinds have been playing and recording these pieces on instruments both modern and ancient for years, and Dan Laurin’s recording is one of the top recommendations on the recorder. His style involves a good deal of extra ornamentation, something which is suggested but is less than explicit in Telemann’s scores, but this element of the ‘added value’ is all part of a stunning showcase of technical wizardry. Laurin’s ornamental elaborations arguably border on excess at times, but the essence of the music is preserved as a rule, and whatever this set of works becomes here they are never boring. Of the recordings I know in the authentic instrument field my personal favourite is on the Accent label with Barthold Kuijken with his transverse flute, but Dan Laurin is certainly ‘hot’ in these marvellous pieces.
Most flautists will have a certain amount of ‘baggage’ when it comes to Telemann’s duets, and I’ve played and taught these my whole life in venues ranging from school assemblies and concert halls to busking on the South Bank in London—to which I can attest that the fast and spectacular numbers are the ones which pay best. Dan Laurin and Clas Pehrsson are wonderfully expressive and virtuosic throughout, though there is one minor element in their combination which won’t bother everyone but does bug me a little. Laurin plays without vibrato, and Pehrsson emphatically with. I’m not particularly bothered either way, but the joli son of one against the straight texture of the other at times takes away some of the magical effect of the two combining as one magical instrument, crossing and weaving with itself and confusing the ear with artistic sophistication. This is a point of taste but also one of ensemble, and these days I would expect each musician to meet the other halfway at least some of the time. Indeed, Pehrsson is obliged to tame his vibrato when the two meet in unison, usually at the end of a movement. It has been mentioned elsewhere that better stereo separation might have helped these recordings, but I’m not so sure this would serve to benefit the music, and the proximity of the musicians keeps the counterpoint tight and compact. Their dancing rhythms and tempi are a delight throughout, and the ornamentation serves to highlight Telemann’s brilliant inventiveness with just two simple lines—much as his contemporary J.S. Bach was: with a more down to earth quality, but every bit his technical equal in the superb canons on CD 3. You’d think these would be easier for teaching purposes—the master leading and the student following their example. In fact the second part has to read the same music on a single stave while hearing something different—the other flute a bar or so ahead, which can be quite a trick to learn. The duo here are if anything more convincing than with the Sonates sans Basse on CD 2, the closer-knit textures somehow suiting the slight variance of sound in terms of vibrato.
Clas Pehrsson delivers great style in the set of Sonatas for Recorder and Basso Continuo, with crisp harpsichord accompaniment and a cello or gamba to enrich the harmonies and bass lines. There are a few other recordings of these pieces around, but this particular one can stand amongst the best and is pretty irresistible at this bargain price. You’ll have to be prepared for Pehrsson’s vibrato, but there is no denying his expressive phrasing, and the rhythmic drive this team can whip up when required.
The set of Complete Double Concertos with Recorder is another highlight of this set. The concerti are filled with built-in variety, with works where the chirpy recorder is joined by a grumpy old baroque bassoon in the Concerto in F major, an elegant duet with a transverse flute in the famous Double Concerto in E minor with its Vivaldi-like melodic and harmonic gestures. The recorder is teamed with a viola da gamba in the sprightly Double Concerto in A minor, and the remaining works are very effective duets between Pehrsson and Dan Laurin. Many of these recordings derive from the early 1980s but still sound as fresh as a daisy, and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble has its authentic performance credentials to the fore without over-labouring the historical perspective. They’re always cool and clean and vital with virtuosity but with enough expressive warmth to keep the music alive and attractive at all times. The lead violin might be a bit too prominent in the recorded mix and there is an elegant sufficiency of treble, but the sound is realistically balanced and natural enough.
Interestingly, this set doesn’t include Dan Laurin’s concerto disc with Arte dei Suonatori on BIS CD-1185, possibly because it duplicates the Concerto in C major and the Overture (Suite) in A minor on CD 6. This famous piece opens a bit of a mixed bag of recordings on this final disc, the Concerto in F minor being the most elderly from 1974, and the last two sonatas with Dan Laurin the most recent, from 2008. The magnificent A minor Overture (Suite) is given a rousing performance, the bass perhaps a bit tubby and vague for perfection, but still great fun, and capable of bringing to mind all those bewigged dancers moving to patterns as formal as a French royal garden. I do however prefer the previously mentioned recording with Laurin, which has an extra layer of transparency in the ensemble. It has a greater feel of vibrant energy and wider emotional range and impact, and the same goes for the Concerto in C major which follows—something which the Arte dei Suonatori ensemble can also be heard doing in their Handel. While the Concerto in F major fits in well enough there is a slightly thinner quality to the sound and a few moments of marginally suspect intonation which is part and parcel of this pioneering phase of the authentic performance movement. This is nothing which is at all disturbing, and in fact there is surprisingly little to point this out as an early ‘early music’ performance. It’s only when the striking stereo spread of the Sonata in A minor kicks in that you really hear a difference in terms of transparency, and these final two sonatas are state of the art sonic masterpieces with which to round off this fine collection.
This is a terrific survey of Telemann’s works played on or written for the recorder, and the recordings in this box are far more than merely competitive in a reasonably well-stocked field. Clas Pehrsson’s distinguished playing is well showcased throughout this set and there are no weak performances anywhere…for recorder fans and lovers of the baroque in a highly convincing authentic performance context this box has to be something of a bargain must-have.