The ne plus ultra of baroque music for solo violin is the set of six partitas and sonatas that to most modern violinists is the holy-of-holies, approached with awe, reverence, and sometimes with fear and trepidation. But Bach didn't write the only music for solo violin, and Rachel Podger's new cd reminds us of another prolific composer's contribution to the genre, as well as the differences between the two men.
Bach - the cerebral composer, the creator of tortuous fugues, rigorous canons, ingenious chaconnes. Telemann the entertainer, more interested in accessibility (for both performer and listener) than in intellectual satisfaction...yet there's plenty of that to be had in these lovely Fantasias. And they sound like fantasies, conjured out of nowhere as improvisations; ideas tumble after one another almost as though this were a kind of jazz.
Telemann was a fine violinist himself, and knew how to make the instrument dance and sing and so does Rachel Podger, who revels in the bagpipe-like drones you sometimes get in the last sections of the Fantasias, reminders of Telemann's love of Polish folk music from his days in Silesia. Perhaps Andrew Manze in his Harmonia Mundi recording from the mid-1990s finds just a touch more freedom in his fantasising, more devil-may-care in the dancing, but Podger's thoughtfulness and clarity, and her easy command of the baroque instrument bring different rewards...not least a reminder that the days are gone when fans of baroque violin music had to suffer for their art, either in ridiculously over-blown performances on modern instruments, or scratchy, technically suspect readings on period violins.
Rachel Podger has made my favourite period instrument recording of those great Bach works for solo violin, and this is a lovely companion piece: Bach's friend Telemann showing his expertise and skill both as player and composer in his 12 Fantasias, admittedly relatively humble alongside Bach's awesome vehicles for violinists, but then Telemann would never have wanted them to be compared. His charm, melodic and harmonic gifts and ingenuity are very satisfying in their own right, and in performances like these everyone's a winner. Not just for violinists, by the way: anyone who enjoys baroque music performed with panache should give this a listen.
Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3