Hurrah! Here’s a delectable disc that has renewed my faith in the seemingly precarious state of first-class ensemble. Whether it be large orchestras, opera or all manner of chamber ensembles it has become increasingly rare to find music played as the composer intended—just from a basic technical point of view (rhythmic correctness and agreement, unity of attack, dynamic awareness and tempos that shift as indicated). Lack of proper rehearsal and the goal of “good enough” performances, over time, contribute to empty seats or unsold recordings just as much as exorbitant price and safe repertoire (cross-references below).
This collection of works by Corelli and Telemann has been lovingly prepared and beautifully rendered by Rebel (named after French composer Jean Féry Rebel, the group’s moniker fits equally well in the manner in which it riles against mediocrity). The selections largely alternate between the two composers, allowing the listener to compare the style, subtext and harmonic landscape time and again. I would take some exception to program-note annotator and cellist John Moran’s assertion that “[Telemann’s] harmonies are more varied.” The famed Italian’s exceptional use of suspensions (adding colour, melodic interest and tension; e.g., the “Largo” from Corelli’s Op. 3, No. 8) could only be envied by the German, occasionally copied but never surpassed.
Violinists/co-directors Jörg-Michael Schwarz and Karen Marie Marmer are consistently in sync at nearly every turn. The frequently “untogether” dotted rhythms by too many professionals are well-nigh perfect here (e.g., Telemann II, “Largo”); their quasi-improvised, rhapsodic interventions (especially the opening of Corelli’s Op. 3, No. 12) have just the right mix of spontaneity and control; later in the same work (“Allegro-Adagio”), their conversational interaction is so convincing that Moran joins the fray and begs to add his point of view as well.
In the continuo department, the strength on the bench is considerable. Whether egging his colleagues forward on the harpsichord (Telemann III, “Presto”—an irresistible example of true “disc drive”) or delivering dark, misterioso support on the organ (Corelli’s Op. 1, No. 9 which has truly marvellous foreshadowing of Mozart’s Overture to Die Zauberflöte), Dongsok Shin brilliantly complements and cajoles as required—another rarity.
Daniel Swenberg is at his most effective when finishing cadences on the Theorbo (a soothing touch to the rather unexpectedly brutal conclusion of Telemann V, “Grave”) or adding punch to the counterpoint (Corelli’s Op. 1, No. 9, “Allegro”). Frequently he, Moran and Shin—like a top-notch rhythm section—lay down the fundamentals in a more seen-than-heard fashion that allows the violins to scurry, soar and dance at will.
The only quibbles stem from a few affected lines (e.g., Telemann I, “Largo”) and the occasional flirtation with speed that threatens the whole, but even at these largely subjective moments the over-arching desire to stick together is never in doubt. Truly, Rebel with a cause. JWR