JOHANN CHRISTIAN SCHIEFERDECKER: Musicalische Concerte (excerpts) – Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg – Challenge Classics CC72531, 72:36 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
I’m right with you: who is Johann Christian Schieferdecker (1679–1732)? He was harpsichordist and composer at the Gänsemarkt Opera in Hamburg, where Handel got his start, though that worthy left for Italy about the time Schieferdecker arrived. Nonetheless, he counted among his colleagues famous operaticians of the day, including Reinhard Keiser and Johann Mattheson. Later, he became the assistant and, in 1707, successor to Dietrich Buxtehude at the Marienkirche in Lübeck. He married one of Buxtehude’s daughters, who was apparently enough of a prize that both Handel and Mattheson had unsuccessfully bid for her hand. Very little of Schieferdecker’s music was published, and the Musicalische Concerte, written in Hamburg and published in 1713, is just about all you’ll find in the recorded catalog.
Yet they are fine pieces reflecting the taste for French effects in music at the time in northern Germany. They recall the stylized suites of dances that Telemann and many, many other North German composers turned out in the early years of the eighteenth century. The Ouvertures especially are grand and stately. The Ouverture from the Concert in C Minor with which the disc commences proceeds at a funereal pace and could almost be a dirge, but like the other suites, it gives way to lively dance movements, Gavotte and Bourée, before concluding with a patrician Chaconne. The Musicalische Concerte don’t have Telemann’s cosmopolitanism or some of the more exotic touches he later indulged in, but they are solidly written and deftly, attractively scored.
Thankfully, Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg doesn’t treat Schieferdecker and his music as museum pieces. The clever but slightly dotty notes to the recording, written as a fictional little exchange between Schieferdecker and his wife Anna Margarethe, seem to indicate that by the time the composer was prevailed on to publish his works, they had been pirated and presumably bowdlerized by a number of hands back in Hamburg, where they remained popular. I’m not sure what instrumentation appeared in the published version, but Elbipolis Barockorchester presents them as the semi-popular entertainments they had become, adding a lively percussion part to the more spirited dance movements, a somber deep drum to the processional Ouverture in the C Minor Concert, with a resulting increase in gravity. The effect is appealing and adds much to the attractiveness of music that is already shapely and diverting. I’d encountered Schieferdecker before in a very attractive recording of overtures from the Hamburg Opera on Harmonia mundi (apparently no longer available), but there was so much new and interesting music on the disc that Schieferdecker slipped right by me. Not so here. Hearing a number of these Concerte in such lively and colorful performances gives me a new appreciation for his work.
The sonics, too, are first-rate. The instruments, including that good-timey percussion, are rendered with much fidelity and, best of all, a sense of depth and spaciousness that is just about as good as it gets in a stereo recording. I’m pretty much convinced that I’ll be mentioning this disc in my best-of-the-year roundup come January.
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