As I listened to the opening Fantasie on this new Berlin Classics CD, I was reminded that I owned a printed copy of the Twelve Fantasies for solo violin by Telemann, and had played them as a student. What I loved most about these pieces was the rich harmonies suggested by the melodic line. This, of course is a fundamental element of the great compositions for solo instruments from the period, the most obvious examples being J.S. Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, and the Suites for solo cello. If you enjoy these Bach works, you should give this Telemann CD a try. For this recording of the violin Fantasies performed on the viola, the only change to the original has been that violist Ori Kam has transcribed the pieces down a fifth.
Mr. Kam is very active as a chamber musician having recently joined the Jerusalem String Quartet. He counts among his chamber music colleagues Daniel Barenboim, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman and Gil Shaham and was formally a member of the Berlin Philharmonic. His numerous prizes include the coveted Swiss Prize at the Geneva International Music Competition and the "Paganini" Prize in the Lionel Tertis International Competition. If the idea of listening to 75 minutes of solo viola music frightens you, Ori Kam's extraordinary musicianship will immediately disperse that fear.
Telemann was largely a self-taught composer and learned to play a range of wind, string, and brass instruments, but it was the violin that became his primary one. Understandably, he wrote numerous works that featured the violin, his crowning achievement being the Twelve Fantasies for Solo Violin on this CD.
Telemann didn't intend his Fantasies as a vehicle for a performer's flashy showmanship. These carefully crafted pieces hold the listener's attention in a much more compelling way. Gallant dance pieces, graceful slow movements and sections of vigorous contrapuntal invention appear in ingenious succession. Each of the twelve Fantasies is very short, averaging only about six minutes. Each is comprised of either three or four movements, the longest of these being four and a half minutes, and the shortest, a Grave from the third Fantasie, lasting only eighteen seconds! The brevity of the movements in contrasting tempos, the rich invention of Telemann's melodic and harmonic invention and Ori Kam's warm and nuanced playing combine for delightfully enjoyable listening.
(As an aside, if the oddity has gone unnoticed, I feel obliged to point out that, of the first four recordings reviewed here on Uncommonly Classical, two of them have been devoted to programs for the solo viola. Perhaps for my next post I should select from the considerable supply of viola jokes so no one suspects that I'm in the pocket of the International Viola Players Association.)
In the liner notes for this CD, Ori Kam writes "Transcribing pieces between instruments was a common practice in the Baroque era. Since Telemann composed many wonderful pieces for viola and played the instrument himself, I'm sure he would not have minded this transcription." I'm certain too that Mr. Kam is correct. I opened this review stating that I had played these pieces as a student, but neglected to mention that my instrument is the trombone. In my case, I'm somewhat less certain that Herr Telemann would not have minded.
Georg Philipp Telemann published his "12 Fantasies" for solo violin in Hamburg in 1735. These pieces place him firmly in the tradition, established in the late 17th century, of such renowned violinists as Carlo Ambrogio Lonati, Francesco Geminiani, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, and Johann Paul von Westhoff, culminating with J.S. Bach, who published his famous cycles of sonatas and partitas for solo violin around 1720. The focal point of such works was to produce rich contrapuntal harmonies on a solo melody instrument in music that went beyond pure practice pieces and captivated its listeners. Telemann succeeded in this by avoiding virtuosic acrobatics by the instrumentalist and instead allowing the catchy tunes and dance rhythms to prevail.
This recording features Ori Kam, brother of clarinetist Sharon Kam, playing a version for solo viola in which the pieces have been transposed down by a fifth but are otherwise unchanged. The tone of the viola, warm in the lower register and possessing brilliance in the high notes, lends the works a new dimension of expression in comparison to the original. Ori Kam, playing in the Jesus-Christus Church in Berlin, draws from his instrument a sound that transcends all constraint and lets the listener simply float away with the music.
Georg Philipp Telemann (14 March 1681 – 25 June 1767) was a German Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist. Almost completely self-taught in music, he became a composer against his family’s wishes. After studying in Magdeburg, Zellerfeld, and Hildesheim, Telemann entered the University of Leipzig to study law, but eventually settled on a career in music. He held important positions in … read more
Viola: Ori Kam
Hailed by the New York Times as “an attractive, engaging presence on stage,” violist Ori Kam has performed as soloist on some of the world’s premier stages. After his debut at the age of 16 with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta, he was immediately re-engaged. Since then, he has performed with every orchestra in Israel, the … read more
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Georg Philipp Telemann: Fantasie in D Major - I. Vivace