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Ouvertüren: Music for the Hamburg Opera
14 Sep 2005

Ouvertüren: Music for the Hamburg Opera

The composers of these overtures — what today we would call suites — range from the world-famous George Frideric Handel to the moderately well-known Reinhard Keiser to the virtually unknown Johann Christian Schieferdecker. The works represented here also cover a range of dates: 1693 for the Ouverture no. 4 by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach to 1726 for the Suite “Ludovicus Pius” by Georg Caspar Schürmann (1672/3-1751), neither of whom have made a noticeable dent in the performance repertoire of today’s early-music groups.

Ouvertüren: Overtures for the Hamburg Opera (1693-1726). Works by Schürmann, Erlebach, Keiser, Handel, Schieferdecker

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

Harmonia Mundi HMC901852 [CD]


The lack of attention to all these composers (Handel aside) is no indication that there is anything wrong with their music; indeed, it makes for pleasant listening in these fine performances by the Akademie für alte Musik Berlin. This venerable ensemble, made up of a score or so of musicians playing on period instruments, began in 1982 in what was then East Germany. The group has also recorded individual albums devoted to works by Telemann, J. S. Bach, J. C. Bach, C. P. E. Bach, and W. F. Bach, as well as other music.

The Keiser work, the Sinfonia from Der lächerlichePrince Jodelet (The ridiculous Prince Jodelet), gives the listener quite a workout. It begins with what might be called excited “chase” music, which is suddenly interrupted by the first half of the famous (and slow) “La Folia” tune, played with percussion, sounding appropriately ridiculous. Then a brief section of fast music again, followed by another brief slow section, followed by another brief fast section — well, you get the idea. As Bernhard Schrammek points out in his liner notes, Keiser (1674-1739) was appointed capellmeister of the Hamburg opera at the age of twenty-three. He wrote so many operas that even the pre-eminent music historian of the time, Johann Mattheson, lost count, writing that “there are far more than one hundred, but even the keenest reckoning may fail here, for many a piece is already forgotten.” Keiser went on to follow Mattheson as cantor of the cathedral in Hamburg, where he remained until his death. Meanwhile, his place at the opera went to Georg Philipp Telemann, who was also the city’s director of music and therefore Keiser’s nominal superior.

Although the Akademie für alte Musik Berlin does justice to the works on this CD, the pieces (the Handel included) do little more than display the tricks of the composition trade of the time, and only devoted Baroque-music listeners would seek out more of this repertoire.

Michael Ochs

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