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Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688 - 1758): "Ich danke dem Herrn" - Sacred works

Veronika Winter, soprano; David Erler, alto; Tobias Hunger, tenor; Matthias Vieweg, bass
Rheinische Kantorei; Das Kleine Konzert
Dir: Hermann Max

rec: April 21 & 22, 2017, Zerbst/Anhalt, Kirche St. Trinitatis
CPO - 555 176-2 (© 2018) (73'55")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: (D)/E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herrn (FWV D,I2) Missa in G (FR 1260c); Overture in A (FWV K,A3)

[RK] Karin Gyllenhammar, Viola Wiemker, Veronika Winter, soprano; Julie Comparini, contralto; Beat Duddeck, David Erler, alto; Tobias Hunger, Dan Martin, Michael Schaffrath, tenor; Martin Backhaus, Paul Lüschen, Matthias Vieweg, bass
[DKK] Guido Titze, Simon Böckenhoff, oboe; Adrian Rovatkay, bassoon; Anne Röhrig, Christoph Heidemann, Claudia Sack, Almut Schlicker, Cosima Taubert, Cornelia Strobelt, Katharina Guhlmann, violin; Klaus Bundies, Klaus Voigt, viola; Johannes Berger, cello; Felix Görg, double bass; Bernward Lohr, harpsichord, organ

For a long time Johann Sebastian Bach was the dominant German composer from the first half of the 18th century, as far as performance practice is concerned. It is only since the end of the last century that Telemann's oeuvre has been given serious attention. Today Christoph Graupner makes the headlines: in recent years quite a number of discs with cantatas of his pen have been released. In comparison, their contemporary Johann Friedrich Fasch still waits to be really rediscovered. Hermann Max is one of the performers who has recorded some of his vocal and instrumental works, but overall Fasch is still in the shadows of Bach, Telemann and Graupner.

In his own time Fasch was a man of fame, whose works were known far beyond the regions where he worked. One of the most important of these was Leipzig, where he became a member of the Thomasschule at the age of 13. He came under the influence of Georg Philipp Telemann, who arrived in Leipzig at the same time. Fasch, who had taught himself to play the keyboard and the violin, started to compose like Telemann, which he did with so much success that some of his works were performed by the Collegium Musicum. In Leipzig he also got to know music from elsewhere in Europe, in particular the concertos of Vivaldi.

In 1708 he started studying law at Leipzig University, and founded a second Collegium Musicum, in which musicians took part who later ranked among the most famous in Germany. These included Pisendel, Heinichen and Stölzel. From 1712 onwards he travelled through Germany and worked in Gera, Greiz and Prague respectively, until he became Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst in 1722. He refused the invitation to become Thomaskantor in Leipzig as successor to Johann Kuhnau. He stayed in Zerbst until his death in 1758.

As Kapellmeister he composed a large number of sacred works, among them nine cantata cycles, all of which have been lost. According to the work-list in New Grove, only 66 individual cantatas have survived, as well as some masses and mass movements. There is also a Passion on the well-known text by Brockes. The main part of his oeuvre which has come down to us consists of concertos (64) and overtures (87). Although a player of the keyboard and the violin by profession, one of the features of his orchestral music is the prominence of wind instruments, in particular the oboe and the bassoon. These instruments are also involved in the three compositions included on this disc.

It opens with the Missa in G, which comprises Kyrie, Gloria and Credo. In some towns Latin was still part of the Lutheran liturgy, and this explains why the oeuvre of several composers in Lutheran Germany includes settings of masses or mass movements. Fasch is no exception. However, this part of his oeuvre poses some problems to scholars. Several of his masses have been preserved in several versions. In the booklet, Brian Clark, who edited this Mass, writes: "The chronology of Fasch's setting of the text for mass has never truly been established. For most of the surviving works there are several variant sources, and even if only one set of parts survives, they frequently contain indications that suggest changing performing conditions (movements shortened or deleted altogether, new instrumental parts added, etc.)." Fasch also composed various missae totae (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei), and it is assumed that these were intended for the court chapel in Dresden, where Fasch stayed for several months in 1720. The missae breves, which consist of Kyrie and Gloria (sometimes also the Credo), were either specifically written for the court in Zerbst or later adaptations of missae totae, written for Dresden. Some of the latter were adapted by Johann David Heinichen, who from 1717 until his death in 1729 was Kapellmeister in Dresden. It is not entirely clear what is the case here. It had always been assumed that the Missa in G was an adaptation of a missa tota, but the present recording is based on a new edition, which goes back to a source which could pre-date Fasch's stay in Dresden.

The Missa in G is divided into twenty sections, which are alternately set for the tutti or one of the solo voices. The Kyrie includes a short fugal episode on a chromatically descending figure, inspired by the appealing text: "Lord, have mercy". The Gloria opens with an intonation of the alto. The first section is homophonic. In 'Domine Deus', the tenor is accompanied by an obbligato violin. 'Qui tollis peccata mundi' is homophonic; the three invocations - "have mercy on us" (twice) and "receive our prayers" - are singled out through a slow tempo. The Credo opens with an intonation by the tenor, who repeats the word "Credo" several times during the tutti; later it is taken over by the soprano. A notable part is the Crucifixus: it is dominated by forte and staccato playing of the strings, undoubtedly an illustration of the nails being hammered into Jesus' hands and feet at the Cross. Ascending figures illustrate his resurrection in the next section, scored for a solo tenor, who is joined by the bass in the phrase about Jesus' ascension. As it to be expected, the Mass ends with a fugue.

The Overture in A is scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and basso continuo, which was the most common scoring of such works. Fasch was one of the main composers of overtures or orchestral suites, modelled after the instrumental suites from operas by Jean-Baptiste Lully. The master of this genre was Telemann, who was a great lover of the French style. Fasch did not hide that he was strongly influenced by him. In his autobiographocal sketch (in Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, Historisch-kritisch Beyträge, 1757), he stated: "On this occasion, I could not avoid publicly confessing that I learned almost everything from the beautiful work of my most honoured and beloved friend, Herr Chapel-Master Telemann, by constantly taking him as my model, especially in the case of the overtures". Whereas such overtures usually consisted of a series of dances, sometimes with additional character pieces, the Overture in A, is a mixture of French and Italian elements. It includes three dances: bourrée, gavotte and polonaise, but also three movements with the title of aria, two with the indication 'andante', one with 'presto'. The bourrée includes some passages with a chromatically descending figure.

The third and last work in the programme is the cantata Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen, intended for the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1736. It is part of an annual cantata cycle (which has been lost), written for the liturgical year 1735-36. These cantatas consisted of two parts, to be performed before and after the sermon respectively. The libretto in the booklet does not indicate where the second part begins, but as the fourth section is a chorale ('Lob, Ehr und Preis sei Gott', the third stanza of Nun danket alle Gott, Martin Rickart, 1636), this may mark the end of the first part. The cantata opens with a dictum, whose text is taken from Psalm 111. It is first sung by the soprano, who is later joined by the choir. This rather unusual scoring can be explained by the fact that Fasch wanted the text to be as clearly intelligible as possible. Bert Siegmund, in his liner-notes, refers to Fasch's pietist leanings, which may be the reason that the texts have a rather personal touch and a moralistic tenor. The alto aria is a good example: "O Man, waken your spirit and say: How great is His goodness!" It addresses the faithful, as do the two pretty long recitatives ("My Christian, let this blessed feast move you to give thanks to your God"; "So pray to God with a pure mind and a wholly altered heart, that He may take shape within you!"). These recitatives are set alternately for the four solo voices; they are accompanied by the instruments. The cantata ends with the chorale 'Ertöt uns durch dein Güte', the fifth stanza of Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn (Elisabeth Cruciger, 1524).

Although the rear inlay doesn't mention it, this is the recording of a live performance during the International Fasch Festival of 2017. This explains the way the programme has been put together. Hermann Max is a specialist in German sacred music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and he is responsible for a whole corpus of excellent recordings with his outstanding choir and orchestra. He also can rely on soloists, who act at the same wavelength, and know what it takes to make sure that the connection between text and music, which is such an important feature of this kind of repertoire, comes off to the full. That is the case here as well. The four soloists deliver wonderful performances, and both choir and orchestra are in excellent form.

This is an important release, as it attests to the quality of the oeuvre of Johann Friedrich Fasch, who deserves to be better known and whose music should be performed more frequently. The composer could not have wished for better advocates of his music than these performers.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

David Erler
Matthias Vieweg
Rheinische Kantorei & Das Kleine Konzert

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