Melbourne Baroque Orchestra celebrates Telemann

Tony Prochazka
December 7, 2022

Poor old Georg Philipp Telemann. Famous and successful across Europe as a musician, Kapellmeister and composer during his lifetime, these days Telemann’s name dwells in the very long shadows cast by his contemporaries JS Bach, Vivaldi and Händel. Which is unfair really, given that he was at least as fêted as they were in their respective lifetimes; and also unfair given the large body of absolutely terrific music he bequeathed to the world.

Which makes an all-Telemann concert something to be celebrated, especially when it takes place right here in Melbourne, and even more especially when its director and featured soloist is one of the greatest interpreters of Baroque-era music Australia has produced. I am, of course, referring to violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch, who resurfaced from musical semi-retirement to direct just such a concert at the Toorak Uniting Church last Sunday, harnessing the considerable capabilities of the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra on a stiflingly hot afternoon.

The program commenced with Telemann’s Ouverture in D (TWV55:D14), a full suite of dance-based movements for orchestra in the French style - which had already lost favour in France in Telemann’s time, but was being given new life in the Germanic lands in the early 18th century by composers such as JS Bach. (Other examples of this style include Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin, and his solo cello suites.)

From here the musical fare became progressively lighter, with concerti for two violins (soloists Wallfisch and Shane Lestideau), a concerto for four solo violins (led by Lestideau with Wallfisch sitting out), and a highly eccentric Ouverture “Burlesque de Quixotte” based on the comic novel by Cervantes. The concert was rounded off with a short but brilliant concerto with Wallfisch again as soloist.

Under Wallfisch’s energetic direction, ensemble timing was never less than tight, allowing the expressive possibilities of Telemann's music to shine fully. I was especially impressed by the sound of the four violin soloists in the Concerto in D (TWV40:202), which could easily have been straight off a recording by one of Europe’s top bands.

Incredible to think that aside from the Quixote suite, none of these pieces have ever previously been performed in Australia - an injustice to local audiences which we can now be grateful to Melbourne Baroque Orchestra for redressing. Although Elizabeth  Wallfisch is adamant that she is “now retired” and this was to be her “last ever concert”, the good news is that MBO appear to be growing in stature with each performance. Let’s hope they bring more Telemann to us as part of their program for 2023.

n.b. the entire concert has been recorded by 3MBS FM . Stay tuned.


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