Berlin Opera Composers
The title is perhaps a little misleading, for although all this music was performed at Berlin, much of it during the heyday of Frederick the Great's opera patronage (roughly between 1740 and 1760), it was not all composed for Berlin. Telemann's Flavius Bertaridus, for instance, was written for Hamburg, though it and other of his operas were probably staged at Berlin in the late 1720s; G. B. Bononcini's Griselda was written for the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1722 and Hasse's Lucio Papirio and La clemenza di Tito were composed for Dresden. Most of the works here, though, from which single arias have been drawn, were indeed composed for Berlin and it is appropriate to find amongst them three arias by Frederick's Court Kapellmeister, Carl Heinrich Graun who was the most conspicuous and influential figure in the early history of the Berlin Opera. His Cesare e Cleopatra opened the opera house in 1742 and an aria from it is included here: and of course, our picture of Berlin would not be representative without a morceau de choix from the king himself. It comes from a ''Serenata fatta per l'arrivo de la Regina Madre'' performed in 1747. As its title implies, this was more in the nature of a domestic 'intermezzo' than an opera and was given, not in the opera house, but in the Charlottenburg. The work is a pasticcio with contributions from both Graun and Quantz, so that maybe Frederick himself was not entirely responsible for the charming piece included here. It is, perhaps, one of the most attractive items on the menu, along with an aria from Johann Friedrich Agricola's Achille in Sciro (1765). Agricola succeeded Graun as Musical Director of the Opera in 1759 but, mainly owing to the ravages of the Seven Years War—human and financial—he presided over a period of decline. Agricola was a fine singer as well as a capable composer and his understanding of vocal technique, perhaps, contributes towards the effectiveness of this aria.
Jochen Kowalski is an alto with a remarkably polished and graceful manner. The timbre of his voice is effortlessly pleasing and he has a good sense, both of style and theatre. He is sometimes more than a match for the ample dimensions of the Berlin Chamber Orchestra who are inclined to accompany him in a manner better suited to later repertoire; the second of the two Bononcini arias suffers particularly from inflated and lacklustre instrumental support. The music itself is decidedly patchy in interest, although I was struck by the charm of Graun's pieces. But Kowalski's voice and his evident sensibility to music and text—both Zeno and Metastasio are represented carried me along without serious reservation. A worthwhile exploration of a musical backwater. Pleasantly recorded, though I experienced some odd clicking noises during track 4. Texts in Italian only.'