Texte paru dans: / Appeared in:

  42:4 (03-04 /2019)
Pour s'abonner / Subscription information
Les abonnés à Fanfare Magazine ont accès aux archives du magazine sur internet.
Subscribers to Fanfare Magazine have access to the archives of the magazine on the net.

CPO 5552072

Code-barres / Barcode : 0761203520725


Outil de traduction ~ (Très approximatif)
Translator tool (Very approximate)

Reviewer: Bertil van Boer

In Germany, opera was an important genre that developed rapidly in the last years of the 17th and early years of the 18th centuries until it came to rival (in a cultural-nationalistic sense) opera in Italy and France in terms of popularity. One tends historically to focus on perhaps the most famous of the stages, the theater on the Gänsemarktplatz (where geese were sold) in Hamburg, and while there can be no doubt that this was the most important of the performance venues, opera itself proliferated throughout northern Germany in virtually all cities. It is true that the rather stiff Enlightenment (Aufklärung) caused it to be re-evaluated as a superficial, even illogical mélange, given that even though the texts were written in German, it was not unusual for both French and Italian language arias to be inserted, Baroque opera flourished for several decades. Today, one hears about the leaders of the genre in Hamburg—Reinhard Keiser, Johann Mattheson, and Georg Philipp Telemann—but there were numerous others active in other cities and courts whose works sometimes made it to the Hamburg stage.

This brings us to Georg Caspar Schürmann (1672–1751), who actually began his career as a male alto at the Gänsemarktplatz in the last decade of the 17th century. He wound up at the court of Duke Anton-Ulrich of Braunschweig-Wölfenbüttel in 1697, serving there and in Meiningen for the remainder of his long life. Today, he is little more than a brief footnote in German music history, but during his lifetime, he devoted considerable energy to the composition of opera, mainly for his patron’s court. He composed over 30 operas, with a few, such as the recording on this disc, even being imported to Hamburg for production in that august venue. Die getreue Alceste was composed in 1719 to a text drawn from Quinault, whose work set by Lully had been quite influential. The librettist, Johan Ulrich König, took liberties in his rendition, but given the flexibility of the time, this was to be expected.

The Greek story of Alceste was, of course, a favorite subject for 18th-century opera, known today for Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s powerful work, but also for its importance in the revival of German serious opera with Anton Schweitzer in 1773, a work mercilessly criticized by Joseph Martin Kraus and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, among others. Simply put, an oracle states that the King of Pherae in Thessaly is fated to die. His servant, Apollo in disguise, tricks the Fates into agreeing that he will be spared if someone will die in his stead. At the appointed time, only his wife Alceste will agree to be a substitute, but Hercules wrestles with Hades at the tomb, freeing the couple to live a long and happy life. The original play by Euripides is enormous, and König’s libretto follows suit. Here, the action sprawls over three huge acts. In the first, Alceste (soprano) and Admetus (alto) are to be married, and as the ceremony is being prepared, her servant Céphise (soprano) professes love to a disguised Amazon queen, Hyppolite (soprano), who has taken on the clothing of a man in order to be close to her love, Hercules (bass). Meanwhile, King Licomedes (tenor) has a counselor, Strato (bass), who is in love with Céphise, even as Hercules is putting the moves on Alceste. Licomedes himself is also in love with her, and he even manages in the first act to whip up a storm to abduct Alceste and Céphise—apparently the King’s sister is the goddess Thetis—and the entire act ends with Alceste resisting him enough to have him shove her into prison. If this seems rather convoluted, the second and third acts are equally as bizarre from the standpoint of the plot, with Admetus being mortally wounded in act II, dying, and then being revived when Alceste sacrifices herself for him. The deal for Hercules to get her back from the dead involves Admetus handing Alceste over to him, and when he agrees to this arrangement, in act III, the Greek strongman hero crashes Hades by beating up Charon, but then uncharacteristically simply asks Pluto to return Alceste. He grants this without question, and in the meantime Céphise finds out that Hyppolite is actually a woman and throws herself at Strato, while Admetus hopes for Alceste and Hercules to return. Although the last insists upon his reward, Alceste realizes that she loves Admetus, and even Hercules is moved to pity, joining himself with the now-revealed Hyppolite.

As one might imagine, this plot is virtually incomprehensible and Schürmann’s original unfolded over several hours. In order to make this disc, conductor Ira Hochman opted for a rather substantial truncation, a task made easier by the fact that the surviving sources inserted a plethora of individual arias from the works of other composers, such as Vivaldi and Steffani. While it may have been an economic necessity, one should not expect the entire massive work to be done here, although the limitations do give a good sampling of Schürmann’s music; given the complexity of the plot, this truncation doesn’t really matter to 21st-century ears, especially given that Schürmann as a composer is so obscure.

So, what is left? A rather succinct and pithy set of pieces that give one a good idea of Schürmann as a composer. The scoring is sometimes sparse, though he employs woodwinds and a rather lush string section; a wind machine and percussion also attend the storm scene. His compositional acumen is apparent from the thickly orchestrated overture, with its full texture and stately procession followed by a rocking Allegro with heavy dotted rhythms and textural alternations with solo woodwinds and strings. Of course, the whirring of the wind machine in the tempest scene may not be as indicative as the French, but it is nonetheless quite effective, though very short (about a minute long). The Zephyrs begin to blow in Aeolus’s aria (“Verfolgt den Lauf”) with gentle susurrations in the flutes and a calming bass voice of Andreas Heinemeyer, here in a dual role. This mirrors the flowing line of Hippolyte’s aria in act II (“Sanfte Luft”) that meanders lyrically. When Admetus is about to depart this mortal coil, he sings plaintively to a solo cello that emerges solo with moments where the accompaniment drops out complete. Alon Harari’s rich voice complements the solo instruments well. There is even a funeral chorus, here performed by the principals as it would have been during Schürmann’s time (“Klagt mit Seiffzen”). The solemn tone is worthy of any funeral music of that time with a mournful feeling. When Hercules appears, his aria (“Mich spornet der Eifer”) features the deep and quite flexible bass of Ralf Grobe, who handles the roulades with studied ease. The final aria and chorus is a bit of an anticlimax, almost like a vaudeville in its strophic form and very simple and homophonic to boot. For such a long opera, it is sort of like a comic cantata and a bit unsatisfying.

The Barockwerk Hamburg gives a solid and quite finely nuanced performance. I find both Katarina Müller and Santa Karnite a bit thin and shrill in their arias, while Hanna Zumsande’s Alceste is sometimes a bit insecure on her intonation, but given that she has relatively little to sing on this disc, it shouldn’t be too disturbing. As a final conclusion, the music by Schürmann is well composed, indicating that he was both fully familiar with the musical style of the Hamburg opera, but also a talent whose works should be revisited. It is a pity that this disc restricts the music of the opera, but I accept that to do the entire thing would have been economically prohibitive. This gives a good sampling and, despite the variability of the singers in terms of expression and sound, it might be worth checking out to see what else there may be in the German opera of the period.

Fermer la fenêtre/Close window


Sélectionnez votre pays et votre devise en accédant au site de
Presto Classical
(Bouton en haut à droite)

Pour acheter l'album
ou le télécharger

To purchase the CD
or to download it

Choose your country and curency
when reaching
Presto Classical
(Upper right corner of the page)

Cliquez l'un ou l'autre bouton pour découvrir bien d'autres critiques de CD
 Click either button for many other reviews