Alon Sariel: Telemandolin

Telemandolin

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) is the subject of this superbly realized album by mandolinist Alon Sariel, who has arranged the music on Telemandolin for an instrument that, while popular in the German composer’s day, was never one he wrote for. Much has been said, at times critically, of Telemann’s influence and prolific output, but in Sariel’s hands such debate is shed like a skin of unimportance by an undeniable vitality. The resulting program is many things: a self-styled greatest hits collection, a master class in historical charm, and, above all, a story to be told.

Sariel himself describes Telemann’s music as “a sea of colorful flowers,” and in this recording this sensibility comes across as fragrantly as the analogy would have it. This is reflected not only in Sariel’s role as soloist and the accompaniment of his brilliant ensemble, Concerto Foscari; it shows also in the ways in which the music interlocks like a sentient puzzle that solves itself.

Nowhere is this more crystalline than in the Mandolin Concerto (TWV 51:fis1) and the Sonata de Concert (TWV 44:1), wherein Sariel shows just how beautifully his forte is suited to Telemann’s sound-world. The mandolin’s short decay gives every note a crispness of articulation that more resonant cousins such as the lute are at pains to achieve. And while it may be stereotyped as a fast instrument, it reveals its delicacy in every Allegro while slower time signatures reveal its most robust evocations, especially in the latter composition’s heartrending Largo.

Another fine example of this tension may be found in Telemann’s forward-thinking suite, “La Bizarre” (TWV 55:G2), of which we are treated to the Overture (a decidedly French convention that some claimed Telemann did better) and closing Rossignol. Therein, playful allusions to inspiration epitomize both the technical and emotional sensitivity of Sariel as interpreter.

Alongside these grand extroversions, the intimate Fantasias turn our ears inward. Whether playing archlute on the Fantasia I (TWV 40:26) or returning to his mainstay in the Fantasia X (TWV 40:23), Sariel understands the push and pull that characterizes baroque music at its finest, as proven in his rendition of the Partita No. 2 (TWV 41:G2). With only continuo to accompany him, he evokes equal parts stone and glass with nary an errant scratch.

A few pieces by Telemann’s contemporaries round out the program. The “Hamburger Sonata” (Wq 133) by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) casts a dreamlike spell that culminates in an awakening Rondo. A solo viol piece (WK 209) by Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787), played here on baroque guitar, unfolds with geometric precision. And the Lute Concerto (FaWV L:d1) of Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758), via archlute, finishes with the flourish of a quill.

After listening to Telemandolin for the first time, my immediate reaction was to listen to it again. Such compulsion is rare for me at a time when I have more music than ever on my desk waiting to be reviewed, and speaks to the visceral impulses awaiting herein. What we’re left with, then, is more a beginning than an end, for its cyclical tendencies are part and parcel of Telemann’s genius. The sheer volume of his extant oeuvre, then, is to be seen not as an exercise in quantity over quality, but rather experienced as proof that music flows like breath out of only those blessed enough to channel it.

Quicksilver: Fantasticus

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Those among my regular readers who admire the work of Stephen Stubbs, John Holloway, and Rolf Lislevand as documented on ECM’s New Series will want to cast their ears on this assortment of Baroque gems from the independent Acis label. Plying their gifts are violinists Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijeski, trombonist Greg Ingles, dulcianist Dominic Teresi, viola da gambist David Morris, keyboardist Avi Stein (on harpsichord and organ), and Charles Weaver on theorbo and guitar. Known collectively as Quicksilver, they bring a formidable admixture of panache and musicological erudition to everything they touch, engaging the discerning listener with the alacrity of their programming.

Although billed as “Extravagant and Virtuosic Music of the German Seventeenth Century,” the present program approaches these monolithic adjectives in ways more nuanced than one might expect. The album’s title refers to the “Stylus Fantasticus,” which in the experimental tradition of the Italians (think Farina, Fontana, Castello, etc.) brought a cellular, wayward brand of composing into vogue. In this instance, however, “extravagance” connotes not grandiosity but inward qualities at play. The music offered here is focused and stays true to where it wants to go. As for virtuosity, it is less a matter of technical flourish than of balancing and controlling emotion, of keeping even the most challenging motif always within frame.

Although pieces by better known composers are sure highlights—the g-minor Prelude and G-major Sonata by Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707) for their urgent, sparkling counterpoint and the Polnische Scakpfeiffen of Johann Schmeltzer (c.1623-1680) for its vibrant upsweep—the generous helping of sonatas by Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674) and Antonio Bertali (1605-1669) is by no means anything to balk at. The former’s acrobatically inflected Sonata no.9 à 4 delineates complementary qualities in each instrument, while each of the latter’s three chosen selections, and especially the Sonata à 3 in d minor, blends courtly and bucolic sentiments with nary a seam within earshot. Bertali’s Sonata no.10 is another lively delight, which, in being hollow-boned, is best suited for its edgier chromatism.

Other pieces showcase the musicians as much as their composers of interest. A sonata by Johann Kaspar Kerll (1627-1693) emphasizes the conversational relationship between the violins, another by Andreas Oswald (1634-1665) the dulcian’s melodic potential and keen interactions with trombone, and an anonymous Ciaconna the shadings of Quicksilver’s basso continuo. This leaves only the Canzona in C major, no.21 of Johannes Vierdanck (1605-1646), which gathers wood and strings in concert with Biber-like exuberance, shuffling atmospheres like a deck of cards dealt into a royal flush with every hand.