Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

MUSIK AM PREUßISCHEN HOF (Music at the Prussian Court)
Berlin composers of the baroque and early classical period
CD1: Music at the Berlin Court, first performances from original manuscripts in the Berlin State Library. Nichelmann, Overture in B major for 2 oboes, strings & continuo; Kirnberger, Sinfonia in D major for two horns, strings & continuo; Quantz, Flute Concerto in E major for strings & continuo "Pour Potsdam"; Schaffrath, Overture and Allegro assai for strings and continuo; C.P.E.Bach, Concerto for two harpsichords, two horns strings and continuo. Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin. Ernst-Burghard Hilse (flute), Christine Schornsheim and, Raphael Alpermann (harpsichords). Playing time 71.56
CD2: Berlin Composers of the eighteenth century. C.P.E.Bach. Sinfonia No.3 in C major; Frederick II of Prussia, Flute Concerto No.4 in D major; Eichner;; Harp Concerto in D major, Op.9; Berlin Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra/Hans-Peter Frank, Bernd Casper (harpsichord), Richard Waage (flute), Marion Hofmann (harp). Claus Spyra (cello), Angelika Lindner (double bass). First recorded perfomances from original manuscripts in the Berlin State Library. Berlin Classics 0093902BC. Recorded 1984 in Christuskirche, Berlin (1984). Playing time 49.10
CD3: Arias from Berlin Operatic History. (first performances of works by Graun, Bononcini, Telemann, Hasse, Frederick II, Agricola. Berlin Chamber Orchestra/Max Pommer, Kowalski (counter tenor), Schornsheim, Alpermann (harpsichords), Friedrich (cello), Strauch (d.bass). Recorded 1985-86 at Studio Christuskirche, Berlin. Playing time 59.00
CD4: C.P.E.Bach, The five Berlin Symphonies. Chamber Orchestra Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach/Hartmut Haenchen, Klaus Kirbach (harpsichord). Recorded 1985, at Studio Christuskirche. Playing time 53.02
CD5: Concert at the Prussian Court. Graun, Concerto Grosso in G major for flute, violin, viola, cello, strings and continuo; Benda, Sinfonia No.6 min E-flat major for violin, 2 oboes, 2 horns strings & continuo; Graun, Concerto in F major for organ, strings and continuo; Benda, Concerto in F Major for viola, 2 horns strings and continuo; C.P.E.Bach, Sonatina in D major, Wq 109 for two harpsichords, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, 3 trumpets, percussion and strings. Chamber Orchestra Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach/Hartmut Haenchen, Rosenbusch, (violin), Krüger (viola), Trompler (violin), Schröter (cello), Schornsheim and Kirbach (harpsichords).
Recorded 1991-92 in the Berlin-Karlshorst Kirche. Playing time 75.19
BERLIN CLASSICS. Boxed set 0094462 BC



This is indeed a rich harvest! Many of these works are receiving their first recorded performances, and a dazzling set of audio recordings from the eighties and early nineties (a well-kept secret, at least from this reviewer, until now) has made many of them available in a sumptuous set of impeccable quality.

In his palace at Sans Souci near Potsdam, the official seat of the Prussian monarchy, Frederick II kept a wealth of musical talent constantly occupied. Carl Heinrich Graun, now a neglected master, was Royal Kapellmeister, J.J.Quanz, the king’s flute tutor, wrote hundreds of concertos and sonatas for his sovereign and C.P.E.Bach, no less, was the king’s official accompanist. All are well represented, including Frederick himself, a competent flautist, patron of the arts and accomplished composer. (Though maybe one should remember Brahms’s advice never to comment on the works of Princes "because you don’t know who might have written them"!)

Frederick organised his musical activities with military precision but, despite tempting comparisons with the array of artistic talent that surrounded Louis XIV at Versailles, the Prussian court was an altogether more formal and disciplined environment than in the Sun King’s paradise. Musicians were kept firmly in their place, and the king’s rather conventional tastes are reflected in some of the works on these discs. The overall impression is one of dignity and high-minded seriousness (and no less attractive for that), though the Hasse, Bononcini and Graun are ample evidence that shafts of Italian sunlight often reached Potsdam. Instrumental music predominates, and C.P.E. is, of course, the star of the galaxy. His five spirited Berlin Symphonies are festive and free of any hint of pomposity, and the concerto in F major (Wq. 109) on Disc5 is an essay in grace and originality.

Jochen Kowalksi’s aristocratic countertenor and subtle control are given full rein in the hitherto unrecorded arias from Graun’s Berlin operas, written, no doubt, for the magnificent Berlin Opera House, which Frederick built and founded. These are basically Handelian in concept – though with, fewer fashionable mannerisms – full of expressive vocal writing and deft orchestration. How much longer must we wait for a chance to hear more of the 16 works Graun wrote for Frederick, including the operas, of which inviting snippets can be heard on CD3, and such lesser-known composers as Nichelmann, Schaffrath, Rosenbusch and Eichner.

It is high time more attention is paid to distinctive centres of baroque excellence which have tended to be overlooked in the somewhat over-exposed brilliance of Italy and France, and especially to the pre-19th-century German operatic tradition. On the evidence of this set Graun is a prime target for reassessment, and if this tempting set stimulates the interest of collectors and record companies it will be doubly welcome.

Roy Brewer


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