This is the start of an ambitious and interesting project on the UK record label Athene that will produce on several albums, violin masterpieces, especially from the Baroque period, making use of the most precious violins. The first title in the series is dedicated to the twelve TWV40 Fantasies: 14-25 composed in 1735 by Georg Philipp Telemann (do not forget that at the time the musical works of this prolific composer – his catalog consists of more than five thousand titles – were the most famous, and considered superior to those of his contemporary Bach); they are performed on a precious Andrea Amati violin dating from 1570 (one of the earliest surviving to this day in perfect condition, with gut strings and with a bow made by the Genovese craftsman Antonino Airenti) by the British violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved, who transcribed the twelve fantasies TWA 40: 2-13 which Telemann composed between 1732 and 1733 for solo flute, because the line of writing of the latter is well suited to the violin.
The Twelve Fantasies for Solo Violin are a staple of the evolution of violin technique, as are the Sonatas and Partitas of Bach, through which Telemann wanted to fully explore the potential of the string instrument. What distinguishes these twelve fantasies is the richness of timbre and palette that expresses a fantastic range of nuances which require an agile and extremely flexible instrument (hence Skærved’s decision to use this extraordinary Amati, slightly smaller than the standard and equipped of a sound not only more acute, but also more agile). A wealth of nuances are present in the twelve flute fantasies only, that in their violin transcription not only lose none of their charm, but are enhanced and beautified by the use of the string instrument (notably, the oldest edition of their score, preserved at the Brussels Conservatory, includes the word “Violin” on the cover, as if to signify that their execution was also anticipated on this instrument).
Skærved’s interpretation is idiomatic in respect to the purpose of the work, in the sense that he tends to emphasise, especially in slow sections, the use of timbre to highlight the Amati sound, transforming the sound (and this applies especially in the transcribed flute fantasies), but never turns it into a slavish act for its own sake with the possible risk of making the dull and boring listening; and therein lies the great merit of the production.
It goes without saying that to produce the best optimal sound from this small Andrea Amati instrument much skill was required, an enterprise managed perfectly by engineer Jonathan Haskell who was able, thanks to microphone placement, to make the most of the violin timbre without it becoming shrill in the high range. The listener is able with these pleasant dynamics to easily locate the instrument in the soundstage, which is spatially close.
Artistic rating: 4/5
Technical Rating: 5/5