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November 15, 2018
(++++) POWERS OF THE SMALLER-SCALE
Telemann: Sonatas Nos. 1-6 for Violin and Harpsichord, TWV 41; Sonata in F-sharp minor, TWV 41:fis2. Dorian Komanoff Bandy, baroque violin; Paul Cienniwa, harpsichord. Whaling City Sound. $15.
Large-ensemble works, for chamber or full orchestra, garner much of their power from the massing of instruments and the effects made possible by unison or carefully balanced playing of groups set against one another. The communicative potency of chamber music, from duets up to sub-chamber-orchestra ensembles, lies elsewhere: it comes from interplay between and among instruments, and frequently from the clarity of line made possible when only a few musicians, or only a couple of them, are, in effect, conversing without words. This conversational element is especially apparent in works such as the six Telemann violin-and-harpsichord sonatas of 1715 heard in a splendid new performance on the Whaling City Sound label. Superlatives abound here, from the enormously involving playing of Dorian Komanoff Bandy – who fully evokes the emotional undercurrent of the sonatas without ever deviating from Baroque appropriateness – to the beautifully nuanced and rhythmically sure harpsichord support provided by Paul Cienniwa. Six-sonata groupings were commonplace in Telemann’s time, and the key variations among the sonatas had specific musical functions as well as emotive ones. The sequence here is G minor, D major, B minor, G major, A minor, and A major – and even for listeners unfamiliar with Baroque attitudes toward and expectations of keys, the perfect minor-major balance will come through clearly as establishing an explicit form of communication and involvement between the performers and, through them, with the audience. It is important to remember that works like these were written not for public display but for noble household members to perform themselves, or for small groups of invited guests to enjoy in a salon. Thus, the sequence of movements – slow-fast-slow-fast in all six sonatas – provided an easy-to-grasp kind of background, while the specific ways in which a composer used the standardized arrangement of movements allowed considerable creativity and a series of delights and unexpected turns of phrase. Telemann handled this balance of the expected and the innovative masterfully – in many ways he was a highly intuitive composer. In this series, Nos. 2, 5 and 6 are dance-focused, all three starting with an Allemande: Largoand continuing with Corrente: Vivace, Sarabanda, and Giga. Nos. 1, 3 and 4 simply provide tempo indications for the movements and are structured somewhat more formally, or at least less danceably – but these sonatas are packed with clever and often unexpected elements, such as the harpsichord solo that opens No. 3. Bandy and Cienniwa have a comfort level with this music that is altogether extraordinary, and they have been blessed with an exceptionally well-thought-out sonic environment, in which microphone placement and overall aural ambience contribute mightily to the very impressive effect of their playing. And the recording offers an exceptional bonus in the form of a world première recording of a kind of “study score,” or perhaps simply a failed attempt, involving an F-sharp minor sonata. This has three slow or slow-ish movements in sequence (Largo, Andante, Adagio), and a second movement so short that Bandy and Cienniwa have to play it twice to get it to two-minute length. It has a third movement that is longer than all but one of the movements in the TWV 41 sequence, but that meanders strangely and is almost themeless. And it has a finale, Un poco presto, that veers from straitlaced to rustic and back and then simply disappears. Heard after the six completed TWV 41 sonatas, this TWV 41:fis2 evokes new respect for the care and polish with which Telemann wrote the works that he finished. Whatever this F-sharp minor piece may have been, or may have been intended to become, it is here a showcase for the quality of the remainder of the music on this CD and for the elegance and beauty of Telemann’s violin-and-harpsichord sonatas as Bandy and Cienniwa present them.