Georg Philipp Telemann once claimed he had written approximately 600 orchestral suites, multi-movement works consisting largely of dance movements that served double duty as instrumental pieces for concert and as overtures to operas. He also wrote at least one work designated as a symphony, as he lived long enough to witness the early evolution of that form, even though he was older than Johann Sebastian Bach by two years. In a sense, contemporary ears regard all of his orchestral suites as being his symphonies; they are certainly long enough and contain a suitable variety of ideas to suggest such a connection. Of the number cited by Telemann, only 135 such suites still exist; however, they constitute a critical part of Telemann's canon and remain among the most accessible items in his gigantic catalog of works. Brilliant Classics has undertaken, with its Telemann: Complete Overtures, Vol. 1, the "complete" run of these works and probably doesn't need to be reminded that there will be 10 or 11 of these three-disc sets to produce to cover the whole cycle.
The group here is the Collegium Instrumentale Brugense, one of the oldest and best of Europe's period-instrument orchestras, and a group whose many recordings have not proved easily accessible in the domestic American market. Led by longtime chief conductor Patrick Peire, Collegium Instrumentale Brugense plays these Telemann overtures as though they are second nature, and the recording is very clear, bright, and well divided, though a little old-fashioned sounding in the manner of an analog stereo recording, despite the Spars code identification of DDD. With all of these works generally consisting of seven to nine short movements ranging anywhere from 5 minutes to about 45 seconds, one might get the impression that Telemann pressed into use cookie cutter strategies in terms of constructing these suites. Not! Everywhere in this set, there is a bewildering sense of variety, as though Telemann is seeking restlessly to reinvent himself with nearly every little one of these movements. Certain dance forms are potent within a genre sometimes called "Handelian," whereas at the other end of the spectrum there's the "Concert of Frogs and Crickets" from the Alster-Echo Overture, a discordantly noisy polonaise (or perhaps more appropriately in the old spelling -- Polonoise) that Handel wouldn't have touched with a 10-foot pole. Alternatively, there is the matter of the overture that begins with a fugato subject in two trumpets that is continued in the timpani part.
This is hardly the first recording of the Alster-Echo. All of the other nicknamed overtures, particularly the Burlesque de Quinchotte, have enjoyed recordings in such numbers that one wonders why these pieces simply are not famous in equal measure. However, this does appear to be the first recording of the beautiful Overture in D minor TWV 55:d2, along with a few others in this set. Brilliant Classics' Telemann: Complete Overtures, Vol. 1, is so reasonably priced that it encourages experimentation in this literature, and generously at that. One hopes Brilliant will remain committed to this auspicious project; one aspect of it that may be iffy is conductor Patrick Peire, who leads another orchestra full-time and is in demand as a guest conductor throughout Europe. No matter which way the wind blows, if it comes from the direction of Telemann's orchestral music, the breeze will be a fresh one.