Tomás Cotik is a violinist, a professor at Portland State University, and perhaps most important, a scholar whose projects for the Centaur Records label have included complete surveys of the Mozart violin sonatas and Schubert violin-and piano works, as well as the Bach sonatas and partitas. Each of these recordings was accompanied by deeply learned program notes by Cotik, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Freiburg University for Music in Germany.
The Argentinian violinist – he also has issued two recordings of music by his native country’s best-known composer, Astor Piazzolla – is familiar to South Florida audiences for his years of residence here, in particular his tenure in the Amernet and Delray string quartets. He was a concertmaster for Michael Tilson Thomas at the New World Symphony, and taught at FIU and the University of Miami, where he earned his doctorate.
Last month, he released another recording for Centaur, the 12 Fantasias for violin solo of Georg Philipp Telemann (TW 40: 14-25). Published in 1735, some 15 years after the Bach sonatas and partitas, Telemann’s pieces show clearly why he was the most popular composer of his time in Europe. The works are unfailingly melodic, exuberantly inventive and substantially virtuosic without being overwhelmingly complicated. Intended for a student and amateur market, these lovely pieces are also short, most of them clocking in under 5 minutes in Cotik’s readings; No. 6 in E minor weighs in at 8:18 on this exemplary recording.
The Fantasias inhabit a sound world that is part older Baroque, part galant, and vary in format from four-movement Corellian sonata da chiesa (1, 2, 3, 6, and 7) to different iterations of a fast-slow-fast three-movement structure. In a piece such as No. 4 in D major, the slow movement is perfunctory and serves as a brief respite between two energetic movements, the second one being a gigue.
These works have been recorded many times, some of the more notable recent surveys being those by Augustin Hadelich (2007) and Fabio Biondi (2016). Biondi uses Baroque pitch and approaches them very freely, with added virtuoso flourishes and interpretative choices such as playing the Siciliana movement of No. 6 pizzicato the first time around, which has no basis in the score. Cotik takes a more rigorous Urtext approach (there are minimal dynamic and ornamental directions), also playing the works at A=440 while using a Baroque bow on a 2000 instrument by the Freiburg-based violin maker Marc de Sterke.
Although they differ in layout, these 12 pieces are distinguished by their faster movements, which offer healthy doses of bravura virtuosity and high spirits. There also are six modest mini-fugues, particularly the one in the A major Fantasia (No. 5), which has a confident Handelian feel that illustrates the transitional musical language Telemann speaks in this collection.
Cotik’s performances throughout are clean, bright and precise; audio engineer Roderick Evenson captures a close and vivid sound in this recording, done at Portland State in 2020. Cotik’s faster movements are very swift and full of forward energy, such as the second and third movements of No. 8 in E major, which has a country-fiddling feel in the second movement and a nice dance-like swagger in the third. Or the second movement of No. 7 in E-flat major, in which Cotik makes much of Telemann’s bariolage and the syncopated wit of its thematic material.
Auditors of other performances, such as Hadelich’s, may find Cotik’s readings less interpretively generous; he is not given to stark dynamic contrasts or shaping highly personal lines. He leaves the entertainment value to what is inherent in Telemann’s writing, declining to remake them completely in his own image. That approach valorizes faith in the music over salesmanship, and while some listeners would prefer a flashier reading, for those interested in enjoying the music of this important 18th-century master, you would be hard-pressed to find a more honest guide than Tomás Cotik.