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Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688 - 1758): "Overture Symphonies"

Les Amis de Philippe
Dir: Ludger Rémy

rec: April 14 - 17, 2013, Zerbst/Anhalt, Stadthalle (Katharina-Saal)
CPO - 777 952-2 (© 2015) (75'27")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Overture Symphony in D (FWV K:D1); Overture Symphony in D (FWV K:D3); Overture Symphony in F (FWV K:F4); Overture Symphony in G (FWV K:G5); Overture Symphony in G (FWV K:G21)

The orchestral overture or French suite was among the most popular genres of instrumental music in Germany during the first half of the 18th century. The critic Johann Adolph Scheibe stated in 1745: "Among the Germans Telemann and Fasch have certainly shown the most in this manner of overtures". Five specimens from the latter's oeuvre are presented here under the title of overture symphonies. Those titles are not historical but invented in our time, probably by the author of the liner-notes, Manfred Fechner. The reason is that eight overtures have been preserved which are different from the 'traditional' French overture. All of them are kept in Schrank II, an important collection of music once played by the court chapel in Dresden under the leadership of Johann Georg Pisendel. The copies were made by Johann Gottlieb Morgenstern, for decades working as violist in the chapel and also acting as copyist.

The five overture symphonies recorded by Les Amis de Philippe date from the later stages of Fasch's career. At that time the genre of the French overture started to become obsolete. In his treatise on playing the flute (1752) Johann Joachim Quantz wrote: "On account of the good effect produced by the overtures, it is only to be regretted that they are no longer common in Germany". This development marked a change in musical aethetics. The overtures fell out of grace in favour of the modern sinfonia which had its origin in Italian opera and would develop into the classical symphony. Apparently Fasch was aware of this tendency and started to compose sinfonias of his own, but then without any reminiscences of opera. His oeuve includes 18 such pieces. However, Fasch was clearly very fond of the French overture and didn't want to say goodbye to the form entirely. Therefore he mixed the features of the two genres: the overture symphonies open with an ouverture as was usual in the orchestral overture of old. This is followed by a movement in moderate tempo - in these five always an andante, sometimes with the addition of air - and a relatively short movement in fast tempo. Fasch also adapted the character of the ouverture, bringing it more or less up to date with the current fashion. Traditionally it opened with a slow section, followed by a fast section in the form of a fugue. In the overture symphonies the contrapuntal element is strongly reduced: some contain 'pseudo-fugues' and in the Overture symphony in D (G5) counterpoint has entirely disappeared. The overtures are in four sections: the opening section has a grave character, and the ensuing fast section is split into three as in the middle we find a slow episode. In some second movements various instruments are given a solo role. The andante from the Overture symphony in D (D2), for instance, includes episodes for two oboes and bassoon.

The Overture symphony in G (G21) has the most 'traditional' scoring: two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc. This is also the basic scoring of the other overture symphonies but they ask for a more opulent line-up. In the Overture symphony in F Fasch adds two horns, in the Overture symphony in D (D2) three trumpets, timpani and again two horns. The latter is also the scoring of the Overture symphony in D (D1); here the two oboes are joined by two transverse flutes playing colla parte. The most remarkable scoring is that of the Overture symphony in G (G5). The number of oboes is extended from two to three, but here Fasch included four horn parts in two different tunings: two horns in D and two horns in G. They play quite a prominent role here, and that includes the second movement. That was quite unusual at the time as brass instruments in baroque compositions were mostly silent in slow(er) movements. Apart from the instrumentation there are also some remarkable harmonic progressions here and there.

Three of the works on the programme are recorded here for the very first time. It is even not impossible that the public performance of some of these works - in a concert during the International Fasch Days of 2013 - was the first ever. In his liner-notes Manfred Fechner assumes that these pieces which Fasch composed for performance by the Dresden chapel were never played. The copies of the parts include several errors which would certainly have been noticed if the chapel had played them. "At most only the part sets for the Overture Symphonies FWV K: F4 and G21 are suitable as performance material (...)." He doesn't know why this is the case, but suggests that these pieces may have been too 'modern' for Pisendel's taste or that they arrived at a time when the chapel's leader - who died in 1755 - was too weak to occupy himself with them.

Whatever the truth may be, we should be happy that these fine pieces have been preserved and have been brought to light in our time. They are available in manuscript - for instance from the International Music Score Library Project - and can be heard here. Two other Overture symphonies have been recorded before by the same ensemble (Fasch, 'Dresden Sinfonias & Concertos', CPO 777 424-2). They attest to the growing interest in Fasch's oeuvre which is well deserved. He was one of the major composers in Germany in his time. It is also recognized that in his later works he is a link between the baroque era and the classical period. Les Amis de Philippe and Ludger Rémy are enthusiastic and highly-skilled advocates of his work. The present disc proves that they are completely at home in Fasch's oeuvre. This is a splendid disc with music which has much to offer. The contributions of the brass players is especially impressive.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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