I have many Telemann recordings, and I keep buying more. Over many years, I've come to feel that Telemann is one of history's most underrated composers. Far from the common caricature of "baroque sewing machine music" that his works receive at the hands (mouths?) of certain tedious critics, Georg Phillip Telemann was in fact a highly inventive and far-sighted composer whose works express direct, heartfelt sentiment while always showing an immaculate good taste. He was enormously facile, hard-working and long-lived, so his output is immense, dwarfing the outputs of Bach and Handel, a fact that works against some critics taking him as seriously as they otherwise might. But we would do well to remember that during the time of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Couperin, Scarlatti, and many other first-rate talents, Telemann was almost universally regarded as Europe's greatest composer.
Even with a full shelf of Telemann recordings, I had no recordings at all of his keyboard music. In fact, Telemann wasn't a keyboard virtuoso and isn't known as a "keyboard composer". But after getting this wonderful new BC release, I've had to immediately revise my notion of Telemann's place in the keyboard repertoire. If someone says "clavier", I'd wager that your first thought isn't "Telemann". This isn't surprising, since rarely are anyone except virtuosi-composers canonized in the keyboard repertoire. And, in fact, when you hear this recording, you'll immediately notice that the pieces don't require virtuoso technique - these works fall comfortably into the "hausmusik" vein. But what wonderful little pieces they are! There are 36 fantasias here, divided into three sets of 12 each. The first and third sets are in "Italian" style, meaning that they have a fast/slow/fast da capo structure, with the last "movement" being a varied repeat of the first. The second set is in "French" style, meaning that the above structure is supplemented by a fourth section. All the pieces are relatively short, individual sections lasting a minute or two.
In these pieces Telemann has concocted mostly joyful, dance-like little flights of fancy, propelled forward by a strong rhythmic drive and a flowing melodic sense. I'm not sure if it would be possible for anyone not to be at least a little taken by these. I like a lot of variety in my listening, but I could listen to this entire set - and then play it again. It has that sense of "endless melody" that keeps you wanting it to go on and on. I have recordings of what I think are the complete keyboard works of Handel, and if I compare the enjoyment I get from this set to the enjoyment I get from those Handel recordings, well, I actually enjoy these more! (Part of that may be due to these superb performances.) Nothing here is profound or earth-shattering - just solid, top-quality music-making, brightening the day of the receptive listener.
I can't say enough good things about Andrea Coen's (ideal) readings. I'd never had the pleasure of hearing him before, but he is clearly a deeply insightful and highly sensitive interpreter. He's inventive varying the da capo repeats and tasteful in ornamentation. Under his fingers, the harpsichord emerges as an intimate, subjective instrument somewhat akin to the clavichord. He has an unerring sense of rhythmic spring that always sustains forward momentum. And speaking of instruments, the one used on this recording is truly beautiful (a 2010 copy by Fratini and Pallotti of an early eighteenth century Mietke instrument). I just love the sound of this instrument, and it contributes in no small way to the overall pleasure of listening to this very fine release. Sound is crystal-clear, well-defined and warm.
The release contains a booklet with an essay on the music by Mr. Coen (Italian and English) and a short profile of the harpsichordist (English). I'd say it's not really possible to go wrong with this set.