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Another Take on Telemann's Solo Violin Fantasias

Telemann: 12 Fantasias for Solo Violin, TWV 40-14-25 Tomas Cotik, violin. Centaur 3949 Total Time: 62:48 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

A couple years ago, violinist Tomas Cotik gave us moving interpretations of Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas in an impressive two-disc set from Centaur. His period performance approach provided a fresh look at some of these important works. His informed and well-researched approach creates an aural window into the period. As he did in that previous recording, he returns to using a Baroque bow which influences the extra nuance it provides. Oddly enough, this release follows on one that appeared on the Navona label from violinist Thomas Bowes (Navona 6378). In that recording, Bowes used an Amati from 1659. Here, Cotik is using a modern instrument but with a period bow and applying period approaches to ornamentation. It feels that this latter approach gives him a bit more technical edge for rapid passage work.

Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas were composed around 1720 but remained unpublished until the early 19th Century. That is important to keep in mind as Telemann would not likely have seen those works or known of them at all. After Telemann arrived in Hamburg, he would embrace the new developments in music publishing creating pieces that were commercially viable. A rather innovative move that would also manage to preserve his music when he began using copper and pewter plates and publishing his own music himself. Into this moment arise the appearance of a variety of works for solo instrument including these 12 fantasias from 1735 (TWV 40: 14-25). They are among several collections that Telemann wrote for unaccompanied solo instruments.

Telemann’s thinking of larger-structural organization is apparent in each of the fantasia sets and in those for violin, the twelve works can be grouped into four sets of three. The first two fantasias in are in major keys and the last is in a minor key. The tonic centers of the individual fantasias also can be seen to have a connection. The outer set’s last fantasia is a fifth away from that of the first in that set, but in an unexpected minor key. The inner sets are a fifth from the second fantasia’s key center. The most striking harmonic shifts occur between the seventh and eight fantasia where Telemann sets the former in Eb Major and the later in E Major. That places the ninth fantasia a tritone away from the first in this subset!

The music itself features a blend of technical challenges that can be “easily” handled by the amateur musician but provide as much reward to an accomplished musician. The use of the title “fantasia” also give Telemann freedom to pick and choose from basic binary and da capo forms as well as dance forms. Gigues and gavottes, a minuet, and even some movements that feel like folk dance certainly increased the appeal of these pieces blending courtly music with rural fiddling. Again, this is that excellent middle ground Telemann was adept at exploiting for his music. This is what also then makes the pieces a real delight to listen to on their own as they are not just technical exercises of virtuosic technique. But, lest we be dismissive, it is worth noting that there are some movements that do require double stops here and there and there are musical gestures that have the soloist feeling like they are about to perform a concerto, explore a fugue, or just enjoy a moment of rusticism.

Cotik’s performances capture all these elements quite fine. His are a bit quicker throughout his exploration of these works which make them feel a bit virtuosic and with a touch more flash here and there. The shorter articulation response in faster passages lends this extra virtuosic quality that further spins these lines in a faster fashion. The slow movements also move a little faster, though with a good amount of emotional affect. Somehow the more experimental expression of Telemann’s music comes more to the fore in these slower movements with their emotional qualities revealing the appeal this music had for those experiencing them in the period. The audio has the violin well front and center in a dry acoustic which makes the rapid passage work pop quite a bit. Those who have explored Cotik’s traversal of the solo Bach pieces will find that his attention to detail is also on display along with his technical skill. His interpretations of this music are well worth the time for music that can feel quite intimate. And, as both he and Bowes are using different instruments and venues, it allows for another fine recording of this repertoire that can be highly recommended.


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