Recently discovered Telemann Fantasias from Richard Boothby

Telemann: Fantasias (12) for Viola da Gamba, TWV 40:26-37

Richard Boothby (viola da gamba)

There was great excitement in the world of early music when these twelve Fantasias for Viola da Gamba were discovered amongst a private collection in Germany in 2015. These Fantasias were known about but had been presumed lost.

I first had the privilege of hearing these works in the wonderful acoustic of St. Georges, Brandon Hill, Bristol almost two years ago. Richard Boothby talked us through each of the fantasias by the great German Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann before performing them. On that occasion Boothby changed the order of the fantasias slightly – based around the weaker and stronger sounding chords on the viol. The evening ending fittingly with the strong Fantasia No. 11 in D minor.

The twelve pieces were written, in 1735,  for solo viola da gamba without any bass accompaniment. They have been recorded previously, most notably by the Amsterdam-based gambist Robert Smith, in St Hilda’s Church, Sherburn, North Yorkshire in 2016 – a CD released on the Resonus Classics label to critical acclaim.

Readers may be more familiar with Richard Boothby as a member of the Purcell Quartet, which he founded in 1984, or as a member of Fretwork. However he is also a fine soloist and has a number of instrumental recordings to his name. A personal favourite of mine is his recording of William Lawes’ Complete Music for Solo Lyra Viol released by Harmonia Mundi a couple of years ago.

On the CD under review, recorded in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Sherbourne, Gloucestershire last summer, Boothby presents the Fantasias in numerical order. Listening to Richard Boothby performing these short pieces one becomes aware of their astonishing range. Each fantasia possesses its own character and compositional signature. For example Fantasia No. 2, in D major dances with an infectious jollity, Fantasia No. 3 in E minor is melancholy and Fantasia No 4 in F major plumbs the depths of despair.

These fantasias are by turns virtuosic and expressive and this together with the exemplary playing of Richard Boothby makes for a very entertaining listen for fans of Telemann and of viola da gamba playing. For other lovers of baroque music these works are well worth exploring though you might choose not to play all twelve in one sitting.

So how does this offering fare in the rapidly growing market-place for this newly discovered work. There are brief notes (by Richard Boothby) supplied but no mention of the instrument being played. This is a shame as specialists should definitely seek out this recording and they would likely be interested in the provenance of the instrument.  Richard Boothby gives us a very elegant reading that imbues each of the fantasias with charm and an individual flair; though one of my colleagues would have liked ‘a little more dancing élan’ in places. The sound of Richard Boothby’s viola da gamba has been captured superbly by the engineers at Signum and to my ears this is to be preferred to the Resonus Classics release. Much as I enthused on first acquaintance with Robert Smith’s performance, and as enjoyable as I still find it, by comparison this new CD by Richard Boothby has the most to offer and is clearly my recommended version of these endlessly fascinating works.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify or Qobuz. Buy from Presto Classical.