... than Reinhard Goebel's 'Musica Antiqua Köln', more stylishly and excitingly, with better intonation and tighter ensemble! I'm fairly sure even Telemann himself rarely had better musicians to conduct. Yet Goebel's brilliance seems to provoke a vendetta among reactionaries against historically informed performance practice, who would rather hear Saint Muffins in the Cow Pasture bellow on modern symphonic instruments at half tempo. Ignore such nonsense! The whole point of such music is entertainment. If you don't like fun, go away!
And where is the fun if not in sheer virtuosity for its own sake? The main course on this CD of 'Table Music' is the 24-minute "Suite in D major for Viola da Gamba, Strings, and Basso Continuo." The virtuoso gambist is Jaap ter Linden, a guest artist with MAK. Pitting the soft timbre of the gamba in concertata with a vigorous chamber orchestra of violins and cellos calls for some compositional virtuosity, also; essentially, the gamba is exposed in cadenza-like passages supported only by the continuo players, and the full ensemble then responds in dance. The contrast works beautifully. It's a little like seeing a gorgeous purple iris amid a field of yellow poppies.
The five small concertos for multiple violins are all in major keys, a sure sign that Telemann intended them for pure musical mirth, but there are surprises to be heard, outbursts of wry chromaticism and piquant dissonance. MAK is famed for its daredevil tempos, but these pieces are 'moderato' in every way. Reinhard Goebel suggests that Telemann wrote them as instructional models of the Italian manner for members of German court ensembles. In any case, they are more adventurous than they might sound, with the composer puzzling over the challenges of a concerto of several treble instruments with no or minimal basso.
The "Concerto in A major for violino principale, 3 violins, viola and continuo" solves the compositional puzzle most brilliantly, and at the same time, indulges in some hearty musical humor. "Die Relinge" means 'the Toads' in rustic German. Toads don't croak, I hope you know; if they vocalize at all, it's closer to quiet birdsong. Telemann's 'toads' sing in enchantingly irrational chromatics.
Actually, I've never heard a performance by MAK that wasn't excellent. Make of that what you will.