SACD REVIEW: PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA PLAYS TELEMANN
posted by James Reel
I’ve been hanging on to a small batch of SACDs on the Caro Mitis label for something like two years, intending but never getting around to writing reviews for this blog. Let me begin to rectify that, starting with two very attractive Telemann discs.
TELEMANN IN MINOR * Pratum Integrum Orchestra * CARO MITIS 0042004 (hybrid multichannel SACD: 57:20)
TELEMANN IN MAJOR * Pratum Integrum Orchestra * CARO MITIS 0032005 (hybrid multichannel SACD: 67:52)
If you’re still trying to build a collection of Super Audio Compact Discs—extremely high-resolution surround-sound recordings, a format that has taken hold more strongly in Europe than in America, but one that nevertheless seems to have crowded DVD-Audio out of the classical audiophile market—you’d be well advised to track down releases from Caro Mitis, a company that focuses on Russian performers, tending to use production teams associated with PentaTone, an outstanding Dutch audiophile label. These are hybrid discs, with a layer that’s readable on conventional two-channel CD players, but for the full effect you need an SACD player, preferably one hooked up to surround speakers.
Pratum Integrum (Latin for “unmown meadow”) is Russia’s only full period-instrument orchestra, founded in 2003. The conductorless ensemble has recorded two discs for Caro Mitis devoted to Georg Philip Telemann, a Baroque composer who, like Vivaldi, was too prolific for the good of his posthumous reputation. Surely a man who wrote hundreds upon hundreds of suites and sonatas couldn’t sustain his inspiration across his catalog? Well, in reality, Telemann at his worst remained a fine craftsman who may occasionally have relied too much on the musical formulas of his time, yet was apparently incapable of producing a true dud. Each work on these two discs is, indeed, quite winning.
Let’s begin with the Telemann in Minor collection; minor-mode music from the Baroque era is likely to strike nonspecialists as more expressive, less formulaic than major-mode works, so this disc presents Telemann to best advantage. It leads off with what’s billed as the world premiere recording of a Suite in A minor for two oboes, bassoon and strings, a sequence of dances and character pieces, the most notable of which is “Furies,” full of nervous energy. Large-scale works alternate with chamber pieces, two often plaintive sonatas for strings and continuo. The remaining big-ensemble compositions are a concerto for flute, violin and strings (including a lovely, serene exchange for the soloists over pizzicato accompaniment) and a concerto for two flutes, violin and strings. This is all music of great refinement and some pathos, and connoisseurs of Baroque music will also enjoy watching Telemann switch back and forth between French and Italian influences.
Telemann in Major offers four world premieres out of its six works. The emphasis here is on orchestral suites, solo concertos and concerti grossi, with a chamber sonata tacked on at the end. Highlights include the third movement of an Orchestral Suite in B-flat, dubbed “Les Cornes de Visbad”; with its strong rhythms and unexpected turns, it has a touch of Rameau. In contrast, the concerto grosso that follows is in the slightly older, more measured style of Corelli. The disc’s other delights include a flute concerto that’s both elegant and lively, and a violin concerto that calls Vivaldi to mind.
Oddly, the Major disc is topped off with a minor-key string sonata, and the Minor disc includes a major-key violin concerto. It would have been more logical to switch them around.
The Pratum Integrum performances aren’t in the now fashionable hot-blooded Franco-Italian style, but then, this is German music, not French or Italian. That said, the playing has plenty of spirit in proportion to the music’s expressive needs, with a graceful approach to the dance rhythms. The recorded sound, as usual from this label, is superb. These two Telemann discs would be a fine foundation for an audiophile Baroque collection, even a small one.