Following the publication of Georg Phillip Telemann’s 12 fantasias for Violin without Bass TWV 40:14–25 and a recent recording, viol player Richard Boothby gave a simple and informative yet rare evening’s concert of the full twelve pieces at St Georges. The programme ran without an interval in a recital format where Boothby talked through each of the fantasias before performing them. He did this by comparing the sections within each of the works and gave an idea of how to expect each movement to be and whether it was shorter or longer, more fugal or more contrapuntal. This was very engaging in terms of an insight into how Telemann had composed these pieces.

Richard Boothby © Liam Byrne
Richard Boothby
© Liam Byrne

The order of the fantasias had been slightly restructured around the weaker and stronger sounding chords on the viol within the evening programme. There was too much emphasis on this throughout the performance and subsequently the weaker performed pieces were expectantly highlighted. For the purposes of Boothby’s climactic ending, his decision was to reorder the last four fantasias: no. 12 in E flat, no. 10 in E, no. 9 in C and finally, no. 11 in D minor. This seemed a shame from a purist perspective, but the D minor was clearly the richest of the twelve. Each of the pieces had a very different character and this final one seemed to contain a fusion of aspects from the other pieces. Chordal, involving fairly complex double-stopping at a fast tempo, it broke out into a ‘tarantella’ style rhythm with a contrapuntal line over the top. It was certainly more exciting than the no. 12 in E flat, which is in fairly standard sonata form.

In performing in such an intimate setting, Boothby set himself quite a challenge. The sensitive acoustics at St George’s and the solo nature of the performance didn’t leave much margin for error, especially as the majority of the audience members were very close. Boothby’s playing style was focussed and concentrated. In some of the pieces, mainly the faster movements, he became more animated and the sound projected more from the viol. Otherwise, his style was more demonstrable and scholastic. The performance was not note-perfect, but that didn’t matter in the way that the pieces had been so well explained and were treated as more of an academic recital.

At the top of the viol’s range, Boothby had some difficulty in maintaining pitch, sometimes slipping flat and sometimes into enharmonics by underbowing. He displayed most talent within playing the more chordal pieces such as the Spirituoso from no. 6 in G and the Scherzando from no. 10 in E. Boothby also demonstrated great skill in performing the arpeggiated, fugal style Presto middle section from no. 3 in E minor in which he moved effortlessly through the arpeggios. The fuller bass notes projected well, creating a contrapuntal effect, demonstrating Telemann’s gift for writing for the viol.

Boothby warmed to performing the faster movements and even used a slight vibrato in the Scherzando from no. 6 in G. This was the only movement in the whole of the concert where he used vibrato and it created great depth. Vibrato would not have typically been used in music from Telemann’s era, but Boothby’s sentiment felt right for the piece. As an ambassador for the viol, Boothby has spent time transcribing Bach and this was apparent as he thrived and responded well in the works that were styled closer to Bach’s writing. No. 8 in A had a more typically conventional Baroque walking-style continuo bass line. The Grave from this fantasia was elegantly played and particularly moving.