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Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656 - 1746): "Musica Sacra"

Rastatter Hofkapelle
Dir: Jürgen Ochs

rec: October 22 - 26, 2006, Baden-Baden, Hans Rosbaud-Studio
Carus - 83.172 (© 2007) (64'36")

Antiphona III: Regina coeli laetare [2]; Concertus de Sancta Cruce; Lytaniae Lauretanae Honori Visitationis B.V. Mariae [2]; Missa Sancti Dominici; Sunday Vespers during the ecclesiastical year (Deus in adiutorium; Dixit Dominus; Beatus vir; Laudate pueri; Laudate Dominum; Magnificat) [1]

Ursula Benzing, Beate Spaltner, soprano; Matthias Lucht, alto; Judith Ritter, contralto; Jürgen Ochs, Raimund Sturm, tenor; Johannes Happel, Claus Temps, bass; Heiko Hörburger, Michael Maisch, natural trumpet; Dietrich Schüz, Christine Wieligmann, violin; Jörg Rieger, cello; Adine Scheyhing, violone; Markus Bieringer organ

(Sources: [1] Vesperae seu Psalmi Vespertini pro toto Anno, op. 3, 1701; [2] Lytaniae Lauretanae VIII cum annexis VI Antiphonis pro toto anno, op. 5, 1711)

Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer is first and foremost known as a composer of keyboard works, in particular his Ariadne musica, a collection of 20 preludes and fugues through different keys, starting with C major and ending with c minor. It was originally published in 1702 and it seems Johann Sebastian Bach was acquainted with it, and was influenced by it in writing his Wohltemperirtes Clavier. It is only relatively recently that Fischer's vocal music has been payed attention to.

Fischer was born in Schönfeld (Krásno) in Bohemia and spent his youth in Schlackenwerth (Ostrov). Around 1693 Georg Bleyer was a member of the court chapel in Schlackenwerth, and it is probably through him that Fischer got acquainted with the French style, as Bleyer had visited Paris to study Lully's music, which resulted in a collection of orchestral overtures in French style. Fischer did the same: his Journal de Printems was published in 1695. Whether he ever has been in Paris himself is unclear. But his connection to Bohemia is well documented, although he worked a considerable part of his career in Germany and is generally considered a German composer.

Fischer was appointed music director at the court of Elector Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden in Rastatt. When the Elector moved to his estates in Bohemia around 1700 Fischer returned to Schlackenwerth. It seems he worked in Rastatt again from 1715 on, when the Elector's court was re-established. During his time in Schlackenwerth he stood in contact with the Order of the Knights of the Cross with Red Star, which administered several parishes in the neighbourhood of Schlackenwerth.
The Order was founded in 1237 and was the only monastic order of Bohemian origin. In the 17th and 18th centuries the headquarters of the Order developed into the main cultural centre in Prague. It also paid attention to developments in music. During services the newest music, in particular of Italian origin, was performed in the church of the Order.

A large part of Fischer's religious music has been preserved in the archive of the Order, which purchased some of his compositions. Fischer himself dedicated his Vesperae seu Psalmi Vespertini pro toto Anno to Frantisek Franchimont, Grand-Master of the Order from 1699 to 1707. A selection of five psalms and a Magnificat from this collection has been recorded here.
The first item on this disc is also found in the Order's archive: the Concertus de Sancta Cruce was written for performance during the principal feasts of the Order, the Invention of the True Cross and the Exaltation of te Cross. The devotion of the Holy Cross was the core of the Order's spirituality. The central section of this piece, scored for 4 voices (soli and ripieni) with an ensemble of two trumpets, 2 violins and bc, takes about half the time and is an exalted celebration of the Cross: "O most blessed Cross", "O Cross, shine as a gracious light of the world", "admirable, wonderful Cross", and "the Cross is the gate of piety".

Some of Fischer's religious works were published. The Lytaniae Lauretanae were printed in 1711 in Augsburg and contain litanies for Marian feasts and four Marian antiphons for the ecclesiastical year. The litany on this disc is written for Mary Visitation. It refers to the Virgin who gave birth to Jesus as Son of God, "which is why the score includes trumpets symbolizing the 'heir to the throne'" (Jürgen Ochs). Trumpets also appear in the last item of the programme, Regina coeli laetare, a Marian antiphon for the period from Easter to Whitsun, when Jesus' reign as King is celebrated. Again from the archive of the Order of the Knights of the Cross is the Missa Sancti Dominici, scored for 4 voices (soli and ripieni) with 2 violins and bc.

The Rastatter Hofkapelle aims at performing and recording the music of the former Rastatter court music director alongside music by other composers of the baroque era. It consists of eight singers with additional instrumentalists. It delivers very good performances, although sometimes a little more exaltation wouldn't do any harm. Thanks to the fact that this is an ensemble which works together on a regular basis there is a strong unity of style. The solo parts are sung by members of the ensemble, and they do that very well. Only the basses have problems now and then with the lowest notes of their parts.

This is a very interesting and convincing presentation of music by a lesser-known composer, whose religious works have considerable qualities and should be performed more often. To those who would like to hear more I recommend a recording which is entirely devoted to compositions connected to the Order by Boni Pueri and Musica Florea, directed by Marek Stryncl (Supraphon SU 3534-2 231).

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

Relevant links:

Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer

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