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Johann Christian SCHIEFERDECKER (1679 - 1732): "Geistliche Konzerte" (Sacred Concertos)

Jan Kobow, tenora; Klaus Mertens, bassb
Hamburger Ratsmusik
Dir: Simone Eckert

rec: Jan 16 - 18, 2012, Eckernförde, Kirche St. Nikolai
Carus - 83.398 (© 2012) (62'33")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Auf, auf, mein Herz, Sinn und Gemüteb; Concerto IX in g minor [1]; Concerto XIII in c minor [1]; In te, Domine, speravia; Triumph, Triumph, Belial ist nun erlegetb; Weicht, ihr schwarzen Trauerwolkenb

Source: [1] XII Musicalische Concerte, bestehend in auserlesenen Ouverturen nebst einigen schönen Suiten und Sonaten, 1713

Christoph Heidemann, Gabriele Steinfeld, violin; Bettina Ihrig, viola; Simone Eckert, viola da gamba; Barbara Hofmann, violone; Ulrich Wedemeier, theorbo; Michael Fuerst, harpsichord, organ

Johann Christian Schieferdecker was Dietrich Buxtehude's successor as organist of the Marienkirche in Lübeck. He doesn't share his fame, though; his music hardly ever appears on disc. It is a kind of coincidence that more or less at the same time two discs have been released which are entirely devoted to his oeuvre. The present disc is one of them; here his sacred works are in the centre. It offers also two from his concertos; the Elbipolis Barockorchester Hamburg recorded six of these concertos for Challenge Classics. The latter I haven't heard yet.

The position of organist in Lübeck was not the most logical step in his career. He was from Teuchern, near Weissenfels, and born into a family of church musicians who worked in Weissenfels and Zeitz. He received his first education from his father who was Kantor, organist and teacher. He attended the Thomasschule in Leipzig and then studied at the university. At that time Leipzig had still an opera, and two of Schieferdeckers operas were performed. He then moved to Hamburg, at the request of Reinhard Keiser; they knew each other from the Thomasschule and the University. In Hamburg he became part of the team who played a key role at the Oper am Gänsemarkt, alongside Keiser, Mattheson and Handel. After some years the opera began to deteriorate, partly due to financial difficulties. This could be one of the reasons that Schieferdecker looked for a more secure position elsewhere. In her liner-notes Simone Eckert suggests that he also may have felt overshadowed by his more illustrious colleagues.

Whatever the reasons may have been, Schieferdecker first became Buxtehude's assistent, and after his death he succeeded him. In this capacity he continued the tradition of performing large-scale works during the Abendmusiken. Little of the repertoire which was performed at these occasions has been preserved. Only one oratorio which is generally assumed to be from Buxtehude's pen (Wacht! Euch zum Streit gefasset macht) has been preserved. No composition in this department by Schieferdecker has come down to us. One can safely say, though, that these compositions were a kind of sacred operas. There was probably not that much difference with the operas which he performed in Hamburg.

One of the reasons that Schieferdecker hasn't received much attention is that the largest part of his oeuvre has been lost. For instance, we know that he composed a complete cycle of cantatas for the Sundays and feasts of the ecclesiastical year; nothing of this has been preserved. He composed 22 Abendmusiken; texts and music of all of them are lost. From his contributions to the genre of opera nothing has been preserved either.

The only complete opus which is available is the collection of concertos which was printed in Hamburg in 1713. Despite the title Concerte these pieces are in fact overtures in French style. They are scored for two violins, viola and bc and performed here with one instrument per part. That is a legitimate option, but a larger scoring is certainly possible. The liner-notes don't discuss these works, therefore I can't tell why the Concerto in c minor is referred to as XIII, although the title of the collection mentions just twelve.

This disc offers the largest part of the sacred vocal music from his pen which has been left. They are called sacred concertos, but in fact the three pieces in German are cantatas as we know them from, for instance, Johann Sebastian Bach. They include two arias, embracing a recitative, and close with a chorale. Triumph, Triumph, Belial ist nun erleget is about the triumph of God over the devil. The text suggests a connection with Christmas; the closing chorale is on the melody of the Christmas hymn Vom Himmel hoch. The first aria has an operatic character, in the second the violins play a prominent role.

Auf, auf, mein Herz, Sinn und Gemüte could be intended for a feast like the Erntedankfest (harvest-festival). The recitative refers to a "song of thanksgiving", "for your grace has blessed our fields with abundance of fruits". The cantata ends with the last stanza from the hymn Nun danket alle Gott. In the booklet the lines 3 and 4 from the text are missing.

Weicht, ihr schwarzen Trauerwolken is obviously written for Easter. The opening aria says: "Jesus dispels the clouds of hell, as from the door of the grave he comes forth as a hero". In the second aria - "Triumph! The foes are defeated" - the violins imitate trumpets. The cantata closes with a chorale on the melody of the Easter hymn Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag.

The only Latin piece, In te, Domine, speravi, is closer to what we mostly call a 'sacred concerto'. It is a setting of verses 2 to 6 from Psalm 31: "In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust". The text is divided into six sections. The fourth is the longest, and begins with a recitative-like passage. This section contains a strong contrast between the first and the second half; the latter begins with the words "Into thine hand I commit my spirit". The tenor is accompanied by violin and bc which play staccato figures.

If one listens to this music one has to conclude that Schieferdecker was a highly competent composer, albeit not brilliant. I wouldn't dare to say that these compositions are not to be missed. Even so, it is very regrettable that so little of Schieferdecker's music has been preserved. The aria from the first cantata I mentioned suggests that he was quite capable in the field of opera, and the loss of his entire output in this department as well as his Abendmusiken must be considered especially deplorable. The cantatas are well-written and so are the concertos which bear witness to the influence of the French style in northern Germany.

The performances show the true commitment of the artists. Klaus Mertens gives outstanding performances of the German cantatas, with an immaculate delivery. Every word is audible, even without reading the booklet. Jan Kobow is just as convincing in the Latin psalm. The Hamburger Ratsmusik delivers lively and contrasting interpretations of the concertos, and the violinists deserve much praise for their expressive accounts of the instrumental parts in the cantatas.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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