La Spagna’s Tribute to Telemann Lacks Genius

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Tribute to Telemann (Lukos Records)

Never sampled Georg Philipp Telemann? It’s like Vivaldi with added carbs, or Bach at a gentle walking pace. That Telemann (1681-1767) was a significant composer is indisputable. Handel held him in high esteem and Bach named his son Carl Philipp Emanuel after his good friend. Both were happy to receive his scores and both expressed concern for his irregular personal life. Telemann’s music is well written, sits easily beneath the fingers and does not last too long. So why do I find it so hard to thrill to?

Perhaps because the others had so much more to say. When Telemann writes a suite for viola da gamba, strings and continuo, he runs out of ideas midway through seven movements where Bach always leaves you wanting more. A concerto for recorder opens with Handelian pomp and peters out in conversational platitudes. A concerto grosso is not that great. The trouble with Telemann is that he wrote too much – 3,000 scores of which about half survive. Writing at that speed, he succumbed to hack work.

La Spagna, the Madrid group, play these pieces as brightly as one could wish under the leadership of the viola da gamba virtuoso Alejandra Marias. There is no shortage of enthusiasm or beauty on this album. What is lacking is genius.

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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