Oh dear. If you want to learn about Johann Christian Schieferdecker
the booklet notes for this release aren’t going to be much help.
If you can get past the jovial narrative style, which opens,
‘“Christian, here’s the post!” shouted Anna Margaretha Schieferdecker
née Buxtehude through the big house near St Mary’s Church in
Lübeck, her home since her childhood. “Not now, my dear; I can’t
get this confounded serenade to finish – and the rehearsals
are next week!”…’ etc etc., you might glean that the composer
was Buxtehude’s assistant, and his successor in Lübeck on Buxtehude’s
death in 1707. What we’re not told is that his marriage to Anna
Margaretha or Margareta was part of the deal for his taking
on Buxtehude’s post – ‘according to local custom’ as The New
Grove has it. Buxtehude had also married his predecessor Franz
Tunde’s daughter, also called Anna Margaretha, which is all
very confusing. Having irritably thrown aside this missed opportunity
to find out about a genuinely obscure and interesting musical
character, we can get on with the music.
These Concertos are performed by a compact ensemble of nine
musicians, and a very fine sound they make. I’ve commented before
on the minimum of means to the greatest effect in Baroque instrumentation,
and the sheer variety of timbre in these performances is breathtaking
just for a start. Winds which can be absorbed into the ensemble
texture or rise up as soloists, crisp harpsichord for rhythm
and harmonic richness, low tones from theorbo, cello or bassoon:
lightness and transparency is key, but monotony is a word which
has been banished from this production at the outset.
The opening C minor work has a funeral feel to the Ouverture,
with its processional drums and slow dotted rhythms in the introduction.
Schieferdecker is best known for his church music, but these
secular pieces are more fun that you might imagine. After the
grim opening, a dance mood is soon created, and the tension
created by the return to the opening solemnity is palpable.
Percussion is also a feature of the high-jinx in the following
Gavott, and whatever interpretative license has been
taken in turning these pieces into performable works is certainly
convincing as far as I’m concerned. Each concerto is a suite
with between five and seven movements in which dances feature
heavily. There are a few remarkable instrumental movements which
transcend dance forms, such as the stabbing chords of the Concert
in the 8. Concert in F major and the rousing Simphonie
which opens 6. Concert in D major.
I very much admire the character the Elbipolis players give
to this music. Great fun can be had in the galloping rhythms
which drive the Rigadoun in 5. Concert in D minor,
and the dance movements are frequently played with realistic
gusto which allows the imagination to play with images of riotously
pumping halls full of shrieking ladies and enthusiastic gents
who wished their wigs weren’t so itchy. There are some striking
harmonic suspensions in movements such as the Sarabande in
8. Concert in F major, and the slower dances are in general
very affecting. Schieferdecker likes his Chaconne movements,
and there are some very fine sets of variations of this kind
to be found, particularly that in 1. Concert in A minor.
This is a very fine recording of some genuinely entertaining
and frequently surprising music. The musicians of the Elbipolis
Barockorchester Hamburg are to be applauded for their superb
interpretations of this unknown repertoire, here to be found
in its world première recording.