Customer Review

16 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Superbly played mediocrity..., December 3, 2007
This review is from: Telemann: String Concertos (Audio CD)
While acknowledging that one does not go to Telemann in search of anything like profundity, these concertos chosen by Goebel are vacuous even by Telemann's standards.

The only concerto with any sort of harmonic rigor and emotional expressiveness is the Concerto in G "a sei". This one is up to the standards of Telemann's Tafelmusik -- music in which he really applied himself. The last concerto for 2 Viols is slightly less interesting but possibly worth knowing.

The rest are cotton candy, and conductors like Goebel probably picked them for the same reason Telemann wrote them. They sell music. Any one less familiar with baroque music and classical music will probably enjoy them very much. But they're like over-sweet gum drops. It won't take long before you have had your fill of them and want something a little more substantial.

Good background music, but that's all.

I don't blame Telemann. The man knew how to make a living. I blame Goebel for his lack of taste. Telemann wrote far better stuff.
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Showing 1-10 of 27 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 30, 2009 6:01:31 PM PDT
I don't know much about Telemann, and I'm not a huge fan of baroque. I picked this CD up at the library, and decided I needed some music to occupy me while I chopped up a big salad, so I played this album. I think the group plays with gusto here, but the material is not up to the superb artistry of the performance. There's very little here I'd listen to a second time. Really, it's a waste. I am impressed with Musica Antiqua Koln, though, and I may investigate their CDs of Tafelmusik and Wassermusik. For now, maybe it's back to the Chopin that thrills me a lot more.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2009 10:51:17 PM PST
Goodpuppy knows a good deal less about music that he pretends. Pay no attention to this insipid review!

Posted on Aug 4, 2010 8:21:30 AM PDT
Maestro Tnomrev thinks that I was harsh and dismissive in my previous comment, and I accept that rebuke. I've read some of his other reviews and I find that he is at least a serious appreciator of music. Nevertheless, I still think he has delivered a shallow judgment of this music, and done so in a style of writing that invites rudeness.

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 4:03:24 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2011 4:05:19 AM PST
Kardewski says:
I'm rather fed off with that "profundity" talk - a thing Bach is always credited with but Telemann never. The simple - but profound - truth is that music is about entertainment and nothing else, your precious old Brandenburgs being no exception. The two Polish-styled concertos on this disc are completely unique - I've never heard anything quite like them. The viola concerto is one of the most beautiful creations of all baroque (even if R. Goebel doesn't do it full justice). I accept your opinion that the Tafelmusik is superior, but these works do have their own charms which just don't seem to get through to you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2011 8:12:06 AM PST
Teop Tnomrev says:
If you think music is just about entertainment and nothing else, then you're profoundly ignorant of the ambitions of composers themselves. Your attitude reflects those of the aristocrats who sent the likes Mozart and his father to eat with the cooks.

And Giordano, thanks for your comment. But, as far as these pieces go, I would have to accuse you of the same shallowness.

Telemann is a great composer. I love Telemann. But, by in large, these aren't his best pieces. If you think they are then, for all your pomposity, your discrimination is demonstrably lacking.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2011 4:27:30 AM PST
Kardewski says:
No, with the exception of the viola concerto, I never said these were among his very best - perhaps R. Goebel would have done even better to record his overture suites for violin and strings instead -, but I just won't agree these works are "mediocre" - they are full of charm and wit and each piece has its own distinctive character. (To repeat myself, the two "Polish" concertos are truly original.) Even in this second-class selection, there are no signs of the insipid routine you often find in the lesser works of some of his contemporaries. And that's exactly why I like the man so much.

Posted on Feb 5, 2011 10:54:14 AM PST
I have a different perspective on this reviewer's critical remarks, and intend to incorporate some of the reasons noted here in an updated review of the recording. Deprecating Telemann for superficiality or supposed catering to public tastes, etc. dominated critical comment 40 years or more ago (he was virtually relegated to historical footnote status in the 19th Century). But as time has rolled on and new volumes of Telemann works have rolled out from the Magdeburg Center, Telemann's reputation has systematically risen. In fact, even though he has recorded a lot of Telemann, Reinhard Goebel himself may now be one of the main holdovers from the earlier ranks of writers or commentators who deprecated Telemann's profundity or musical importance. A typical example of Goebel's sophisticated putdowns in the CD notes is his comment on the Divertimento. "...Telemann still had his finger on the pulse of his time even when he was 84." Teor follows the same idea in his first sentence "The man knew how to make a living",. He reinforces the idea that Telemann wrote for unsophisticated audiences or low tastes. I'll deal with the self-serving or "make a living" allegation in my revised review, and go on to some more technical points here.

Over the past 2 decades I went through a transformation in my understanding of Telemann's compositions. It enormously increased my interest in and enjoyment of his works. But it also introduced greater problems with most contemporary recordings, and my disagreement with the assumptions of some knowledgeable aficionados of early music and professional musicians. These can offer barriers to appreciation of Telemann's music that not present for recordings of J.S. Bach's music by leading performers.

First, Telemann's unique gifts and style create performance and recording technology challenges. I've begun to comment on this issue in a recent Amazon review (to be supplemented). Very briefly, whereas Bach's penchant for linear counterpoint led him to create robust themes and music that can work even when played on a steam calliope. Telemann's music is very different. His extraordinary ear for instrumental timbres and combinations, subtle use of "orchestral counterpoint", and shifts in mood and rhythm put special demands on performers as well as recording engineers. Obviously, miking up the soloist, as one often hears, will lose the foregoing qualities. As matter of principle, he did not want to glorify the virtuoso soloist and nearly always emphasized interplay between the soloist and the orchestra and its various players.

Next, in the hands of performers who "feel" its potentials Telemann's music can soar and transport audiences. In the hands of others, whether because of lack of technique or musical sensitivity, or because they were primarily focused on following certain stylistic models for performance of baroque music, Telemann's compositions can sound like any other baroque music or be trivialized.

Another factor that worked against Telemann in the past has been the professionalization of serious music culture since World War II. As the late music critic, Henry Pleasants earlier pointed out, the later 20th Century paradigm for music critics and scholars was that profundity, depth, and "musical interest" were, by definition, incompatible with music that audiences liked. This attitude is evoked by Teor's statement that "Anyone less famliar with baroque music and classical music will probably enjoy them very much".

In short, the Telemann story is a complicated one. Getting up to speed on it is greatly handicapped by the fact that the only substantial biography and musical evaluation of Telemann remains Richard Petzoldt's book of 1974. The vast scholarship undertaken under the leadership of Wolf Hobohm and others remains fragmented in German language literature. Perhaps, given the many controversies the subject involves - even those authors have preferred to stick with their more scholarly work and haven't tried to compile the newer data into an accessible book.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2011 10:55:40 AM PST
On target.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2011 11:57:37 AM PST
To Kardewski:
I'm in agreement with you about the "profundity" talk, the uniqueness of Telemann's polish-influenced music, and the viola concerto's beauties. Although the concerto's technical requirements are simple enough so that practically all viola students will study this piece, I know of no work that better captures the special quality of the viola - especially its lowest register (not Carl Stamitz, or even Alessandro Rolla - who wanted to do for the viola what Paganini did for the violin).

But I was startled to learn of your low opinion of Iona Brown's recording of "five" of the Telemann violin concerti (one was not Telemann). For me her recording was a watershed experience. The balance between soloists and orchestra opened first opened to me how Telemann did not follow the solo-ripieno formula employed by most baroque composers. Rather there was a complex and unpredictable interplay between soloist and not just the orchestra as a whole, but with different segments of it, sometimes as duos, trios, quartets, and for contrast, unison playing to boldly underline a theme. Iona Brown also oversaw the performance style of the orchestra in order to highlight the enormous variety of sound combinations that Telemann achieved with the strings. In other words, although the St. Martin in the Fields orchestra used modern instruments, I heard in this performance an inspired search for the possibilities or intentions embedded in the music. In contrast, many period performance groups have a standard style and ornamentation practice that they impose on all baroque music that they play. I once read in the Spectrum newsletter published by John Harbison an article by the Kuijken brothers. They admitted that in the beginning their playing was formulaic, e.g. putting a "messa di voca" on every note, etc.

Given your sensitivity to Telemann, I would be interested in more detail about your reaction to the Brown recording (I'm aware of one minor technical slip in one of the concerti) and your favorite recordings.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2011 12:22:50 PM PST
Teop Tnomrev says:
Hi Frank, a really interesting post. I wish you luck. My only point would be this:In "deprecating" Telemann, the question isn't when, why or who made the criticisms (it could have been 80 years ago or a 200 years ago). The question is whether the criticisms were correct.

Pointing out that Telemann was a subtle orchestrator isn't one I would gainsay, but it's a bit like praising the apple for the color of its skin. There were many, many baroque composers with finely attuned ears for orchestration, that didn't necessarily make their music very memorable. The two don't go together. If Telemann's "canonical" status is to be elevated (if it *needs* to be elevated), then it will be for reasons other than his skill as an orchestrator or that he could play the bassoon while pedaling the organ.

Most importantly, there is a tendency for the making of straw men when discussing Telemann. It's easy for "ardent supporters" of Telemann to accuse an imagined "establishment" of trivializing the composer. I don't see it. There are certainly voices who trivialize the composer but they're not taken any more seriously than the voices who attempt to elevate him to the rank of a Bach or Handel. Also, asserting that a given composition is trivial is not the same as asserting that a given composer is trivial. This too is a conflation that makes for the convenient straw man. Some of Beethoven's chamber works are exceedingly trivial.

If you're going to argue that Telemann was a fine composer capable of writing great music, then that's hardly novel. If you're going to argue that this or that composition has been underrated by common opinion, then good luck.

History's general consensus has done a fairly good job recognizing the merits of the different composers. If you're going to argue against it, just be sure you don't come off like those trolls who proclaim that Salieri was the greatest operatic genius of his era and that Mozart was the novice.
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