Overtures for the Hamburg Opera
This disc claims to explore overtures composed for the Hamburg Opera but the concept proves to be loose: no room was found for Telemann or Mattheson, despite the vital contribution both men made to opera in the city, and the only piece here described as an overture is not from an opera but taken from a collection of Erlebach’s French-style instrumental pieces published in 1693. The opera house is more accurately represented with a suite of dances by Schürmann and a sinfonia from Keiser’s Der lächerliche Printz Jodelet.
The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin is technically immaculate, yet owing to the prominent intrusion of delirious percussion much of this disc unfortunately sounds like a 1950s Hollywood depiction of a banquet at Camelot. Others may find such exotic gimmicks vivacious, but I suspect that the bold assortment of castanets, tambourines and general arsenal of percussive effects is unlikely to reflect how these composers intended their music to be performed. The increasingly popular practice of liberally peppering percussion all over dance movements is becoming annoying, and it severely hampered my enjoyment of this disc. However, there are moments which are persuasive and infectious: the concluding Chaconne of Schiefferdecker’s concert suite has plenty of invigorating bassoon and sparkling flourishes from the orchestra’s leader and director Georg Kallweit, and the Sarabande from Handel’s immature first opera Almira is given a notably understated and poignant performance. It is absurd that Harmonia Mundi’s booklet and cover showcase several German names featuring umlauts, while ignoring this in the case of the French ‘Haendel’. This baffling inconsistency is indicative of the disc as a whole, although fans of the orchestra will be delighted by its iconoclastic verve.