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Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656 - 1746): Le Journal du Printemps op. 1

L'Orfeo Barockorchester
DIR.: Michi Gaigg

rec: October 24 - 26, 2005, Stuttgart, Studio SWR
CPO - 777 150-2 (© 2007) (77'39")

Suite No. 1 in C; Suite No. 2 in a minor; Suite No. 3 in B flat; Suite No. 4 in d minor; Suite No. 6 in F; Suite No. 7 in g minor; Suite No. 8 in C

German music in the late 17th and early 18th century was dominated by the Italian and the French style. Most composers aimed at mixing both, and represented what was called the 'mixed taste', usually with the common French term goût réuni. But some German composers were so strongly attracted to the French style that they aimed at copying it in their own works. They were called Lullists, after Jean-Baptiste Lully, the Italian-born composer who dominated music in France in the second half of the 17th century. Some of them even went to Paris to study with Lully, like Johann Sigismund Kusser (1660 - 1727), who published six suites in French style in 1682. Another composer who had been in Paris was Georg Bleyer (1647 - after 1694). It is probably through him that Fischer got acquainted with the French style as Bleyer was a member of the court chapel in Schlackenwerth (Ostrov) in Bohemia, where Fischer, born in Schönfeld (Krásno), spent his youth.

Fischer worked the largest part of his long life at the service of elector Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden in Rastatt. He was appointed 'Kapellmeister' somewhere between 1791 and 1793. He composed instrumental works, sacred music and works for keyboard. His first printed music was a collection of eight suites for orchestra, published unter the title Le Journal du Printems in Augsburg in 1695. These are written in purely French style, but there is no proof Fischer has ever been in Paris himself. It is interesting, though, that - apart from Cavalli's opera Serse - these suites are the only music by a non-French composer represented in the Collection Philidor, a collection of scores which were popular at the French court and regularly performed there. This suggests that either Fischer has been in Paris after all or that there was some kind of contact between the composer and the French court. It also is an indication that Fischer's music was indeed considered 'French'. Although many suites 'in French style' were composed in Germany in the decades around 1700, most of them wouldn't be recognized as French by a French audience. Fischer's suites were an exception.

All suites begin with an overture, which is followed by a series of dances. Most suites also contain a passacaille or chaconne, ground-basses which French composers frequently included in their works. Pieces which often appeared in the French 'tragédie-lyrique' are also represented, like an 'Entrée' (Suites No 4 and No 8 in C), a 'plainte' (Suite No 2), a 'marche' (Suite No 1) or an 'air' for a group of characters (here the 'Air des Combattans' in Suite No 1). The scoring in five parts reflects the French taste too: the orchestra is divided in dessus, haute-contre, taille, quinte and basse. As these suites were published in Augsburg, Fischer had to adapt his works in some respect to the possibilities of most German court orchestras. For instance, the haute-contre part is higher than in Lully's music, which makes it possible to be played by a violin rather than a viola. The performance on this disc this also reflects German habits in that the pitch is a=415' rather than the lower French pitch (a=392'). As was common in France, oboes are playing colla parte with the strings. Occasionally two recorders are used, and in Suites 1 and 8 two trumpets are added which also play colla parte - something never practiced in France. In this recording two basses de violon are included in the bass section.

Fischer's collection of suites is quite often referred to in books and programme notes, but not very often played or recorded. To my knowledge this is the first next to complete recording of these suites (Suite No 5 had to be left out because of a lack of space on the disc). And fortunately they get the best possible performance. L'Orfeo Barockorchester is a very fine ensemble, which - as the list of recordings in the booklet shows - has a preference for neglected repertoire. But even if there was competition in this music they didn't need to fear it, as they give a splendid account of Fischer's suites. The playing is vivid and colourful, powerful when needed (for instance in Suite 1) and introverted and tender when it is required (Suite 2: plainte; Suite 6: sarabande). In some movements percussion is added, which strenghtens their rhythmic pulse, and which is fully in line with the performance practice in Paris in Lully's time.

I have greatly enjoyed this recording, both because of the quality of the music and the level of performance. I hope it shall be possible to record the remaining suite some time. I recommend this disc which shows the influence of the French style outside France in a most impressive way.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

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