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Giving Less-Known Composers Their Due

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A new CD features music from composers associated with the Hamburg Opera House circa 1700. It's performed on historical instruments, and music critic Tom Manoff is very impressed.

(Soundbite of orchestra music)

TOM MANOFF reporting:

I'm sure you've heard music by Schuman, but when's the last time you heard music by Schurmann, Georg Caspar Schurmann to be exact, one of several less-than-famous composers on this recording? This is the overture from a suite from his opera "Louis the Pious.

(Soundbite of overture)

MANOFF: This recording by the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin has some of the best Baroque playing that I've ever heard. The 19 members of the group perform here without a conductor, which speaks plenty about their interpretative abilities. Many Baroque works share certain easily recognized patterns that repeat, so an average performance, especially of an average composer, can sound pretty routine. But these musicians find a unique character in each piece and then convey that character with a perfect unity of nuanced phrasing. Here's a pospia(ph) by Johan Christian Schieferdecker.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: Thirty-two tracks make up this CD, all recorded in vivid and sensual sound, and musically one is more tasty than the next.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: Here's the "Air Bouree" by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: One composer who wrote operas at Hamburg did become a household name. This chaconne is by the 20-year-old George Frideric Handel.

(Soundbite of music)

MANOFF: It's interesting to hear Handel, the composer of the mighty "Messiah," juxtaposed with these forgotten figures. Although you can definitely hear Handel's young genius peeking out above the pack, the other composers, especially as performed here, stand up quite well. This recording by the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin is not about the genius of one personality, but rather the collective genius of European Baroque civilization. And on top of that, it's fun.

BLOCK: The CD is called "Overtures: Music for the Hamburg Opera." Our critic is Tom Manoff.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Manoff
Composer and author Tom Manoff has been the classical music critic for NPR's All Things Considered since 1985.