Any performer's interpretation of the 12 Fantasias for Solo Violin (1735) by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) demands that the composer's score be honoured and the rendering be personalized by the musician. That delicate balance is achieved splendidly in Tomás Cotik's treatment, a fine complement to his earlier recordings of Bach and Piazzolla. As noted by Frank Cooper in the release booklet, composers of the Baroque era expected their works to be subjected to individual interpretation and therefore refrained from including an exhaustive set of performance-related details in their scores; the governing factor, Cooper succinctly states, was always “knowledge tempered by taste.” That suits Cotik, an internationally acclaimed performer, recording artist, and Associate Professor of Violin at Portland State University, perfectly: the Argentina-born violinist brings both a scholarly understanding of Telemann's material and a virtuosic command of his instrument to the project, the result an hour-long recording that consistently rewards.
Playing with a Baroque bow, Marc de Sterke (2000) violin, and synthetic strings slightly softer than ones he normally uses, Cotik thoughtfully personalizes his interpretation by customizing the duration of note values, employing rubato, and fine-tuning rhythmic articulation by sharpening the rhythm and adding pauses. As an illustration of his treatment, he sustains bass notes just long enough for them to register with the listener rather than hold them for their full written value. As analytical an approach as this might suggest, there's nothing overly studious about the playing. Having laid the preparatory groundwork beforehand, Cotik gave himself freely to the performances. The CD recording is his seventeenth in ten years, yet no sign of fatigue is evident when his passion for the material translates into performances of immense appeal.
Extensive stylistic and emotional ground is covered in the forty-four movements (three or four to a piece, though the fifth includes six). It doesn't hurt that Telemann's melody-rich Fantasias are so abundant in charm and invention. The first (in B-Flat Major) is generally representative of the set. Following an elegiac largo exquisitely rendered by Cotik, the piece advances through a torrential allegro (some moments almost suggesting countrified fiddling) and a poignant grave episode before concluding with a light-speed “Si replica l'allegro”—all in a compact six-and-a-half minutes. By comparison, the fourth (in D Major) opens at a sprint and then slows for a contemplative interlude before racing to an exuberant close. Whereas the violinist displays his impressive technical command in artfully executing the double stops recurring throughout the sixth (in E minor), at eight minutes the longest Fantasia, Cotik's sensitive side is at the fore for the lovely dolce and forlorn largo movements that distinguish the seventh (in E-Flat Major).
As much as the recording is, among other things, something of a history lesson, there's nothing dry, dusty, or pedantic about it when Cotik invests the material with so much life. Listening to him play is never less than a pleasure, and all twelve pieces are brought vividly and expressively to life. Of course his interpretation is but one of many available, and those coming to his with a favourite already in place might find more or less to favour in his by comparison. Regardless, there's no question his bright and deftly executed treatment is a viable addition to that distinguished set.