Telemann Fantasies for solo viola / Ori Kam


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.