Johann Christian SCHIEFERDECKER (1679-1732)
Musicalische Concerte (Hamburg 1713)
13. Concert C minor [11:01]
8. Concert F major [12:02]
5. Concert D minor [13:31]
10. Concert G major [11:20]
1. Concert A minor [11:33]
6. Concert D major [13:09]
Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg
rec. 4-8 April 2011, Evangelische Kirche Isselhorst

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.

Dominy Clements

World première recordings and superb entertainment – who could ask for more?