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Interview with Stefan Temmingh

img  Tobias Fischer

Why did people at the time consider the recorder a virile instrument and keyboard instruments as feminine?
Well I think the reason is rather obvious ... just look at the recorder! Now, to be serious, in baroque times people had great knowledge of symbols in paintings, literature and music. Everybody knew, for example, that a white lily symbolizes innocence in a painting.  

What, other than the Handel-connection, were criteria for what pieces to include on The Gentleman's Flute?
We wanted to record Handel arias in the 18th century tradition of performing the arias only with continuo, like they did 300 years ago in London. I made an exact study of all the sources concerning this practice. When choosing the arias, we asked ourselves: “What is the character of the aria? Is it possible to convey exactly the same affect with our instruments without losing Handel’s original idea behind the composition?“ When that was the case, I started  thinking about which recorder to use in combination with which continuo instruments.

The Gentleman's Flute was conceptualised as depicting a party in 18th century London. How much fun was recording the album?
It was immense fun. Making a recording with a bunch of friends is almost a party! I don´t actually actively seek to create a festive mood – playing music is a feast no matter where you play it. When I make a recording like this, it is easy because all the people involved never look at their watches. If something doesn't work, one knows one can always do it again. This has the great effect of everybody feeling rather relaxed. And paradoxically you achieve everything much faster.

Of course, when performing this music in a regular concert hall or listening to the music on CD, the mood will be very different to the parties at the time. What, do you feel, remains intact from a time when the transcriptions were foremost entertainment?
The emotions of course! They remain the same irrespective of whether you play them at home, in a concert hall or listen to them on CD.

Does performing them with the original practise approach you mentioned translate these emotions most strongly to an audience, do you feel?
Listeners don´t have to be interested in authentic performance practices. It’s not their job, they should simply enjoy the music, and they do. Baroque music is very popular at the moment. I don´t think one needs to translate music into our century, these arias are about love, hate, jealousy and being alone - emotions, that we experience today exactly as people did 300 years ago in London.

How did you find the balance between this immediate emotionality and a work which still makes for interesting listening after repeated spins?
One of the wonderful things in making a recording is that you can try out anything, because you are allowed to make mistakes. If something doesn't work, you simply do it again, differently. This freedom gives you the opportunity to remain spontaneous. I think one can hear this freedom in our recording! This is probably the most important thing in making a recording. If one tries only to play correctly the end product can soon sound very boring and rather dry. And then the listener will soon get bored with the CD.

So do you feel as though if you're going to do a new interpretation of a piece, it should really and genuinely add something to it?
No, I simply study the sources and then find some ideas rather special and, when played, they sound outrageous. But I never add something just for the sake of a new special interpretation. For me, the most important principal in interpreting pieces is remaining faithful to the composer in his intentions.

How do you remember the recording sessions in general?
I love recording sessions. Making something that everybody in the world can listen to is a great honour. This recording was even more special than usual since we all know each other and love playing together.

What were the strengths of the ensemble?
Firstly, when you know each other, the interaction between the musicians is very easy! Secondly, all my continuo players can really improvise. This is immensely important in order to achieve a sound comparable to that of an orchestra with only continuo instruments.

How much could you rely on first takes and „the moment“ on this occasion?
To be honest, the first take is usually the worst. But like I said we as an ensemble always try something new in each take – so, to a certain extent, all takes have a certain momentary quality.

When performing these compositions, are you considering them as pieces in their own right or still as transcriptions? Are you, for example, keeping the vocal score in mind for the recorder lines?

Not keeping the vocal line in mind is impossible! Even when I play true instrumental pieces I try to sing it through my recorder. This is a basic principal in making music! As Telemann said, singing is always the starting point of making music. And of course, these are pieces in their own right. The idea of a transcription is rather modern. In all previous centuries music was there to be played – nobody thought in categories of original and transcribed versions.

How do you feel these pieces compare to Handel's regular recorder compositions?
Technically these are much harder. In Handel's original pieces he doesn't even use the full range of the recorder. His recorder sonatas are actually quite difficult for the harpsichord player but the the recorder part is easy. Our arias are more balanced between recorder and continuo.

What does the absence of the orchestra add, rather than take away, from the music from your perspective?

I think the absence of the orchestra is a great asset, a great number of these  arias are very well-known - but not in our versions. This is sort of a “comfortable surprise.” One knows it on the one hand, but on the other hand it sounds completely different. But we never changed Handel's compositional intention in our interpretations.

You once mentioned that, in South Africa, "there is always a special kind of energy in the streets, which can be incredibly inspiring." How does that compare to your current home of Germany?
I don´t think you can compare that. In South Africa, there is a vibrancy on the street due to the fact that there is, in the positive meaning, a certain respect for life. Because one is confronted with poverty and murder each day, people know it is a privilege simply being alive and well. Here, we don´t have those kinds of problems. We in Germany should respect life more - we live in an extremely rich country!

By Tobias Fischer

Picture by Harald Hoffmann

Stefan Temmingh Discography:

Corelli à la mode (Oehms) 2009
The Gentleman's Flute (Oehms) 2010

Stefan Temmingh

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