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Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688 - 1758): Orchestral Music

Tempesta di Mare (Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra)
Dir: Gwyn Roberts, Richard Stone

rec: Jan 27, 2007 (live), Philadelphia, St Mark's Church
Chandos - CHAN 0751 (© 2007) (59'36")

Concerto in D (FWV L,D15) (with alternative Andante (FWV L,D15bis)); Concerto in B flat (FWV L,B3); Ouverture grosso in D (FWV K,D8)

Johann Friedrich Fasch is a German composer of the generation of Bach and Telemann, but he is still in the shadow of those masters. In his time he was one of the most famous composers in Germany, who was put by some at the same level as Telemann. The music on this disc gives evidence of his reputation: the compositions recorded here belong to the about one third of Fasch's output which has been preserved in Dresden. It was for the court orchestra in Dresden - arguably the best in Germany at the time - that Fasch composed the works performed by Tempesta di Mare. From October 1726 to June/July 1727 Fasch spent nine months in Dresden, and there he composed vocal works for the Roman Catholic court chapel and instrumental music for the court orchestra. Among his colleagues at that time were Johann David Heinichen, the Kapellmeister, and the violinist Johann Georg Pisendel. He knew both of them very well, as they had been members of the (second) Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, which he founded in 1708 while studying there. After his return to Zerbst, where he was active as Kapellmeister since 1722 he continued to write music for Dresden, probably at the request of Heinichen and Pisendel.

The contacts to Dresden seem to have had a considerable influence on Fasch's compositional style. In the booklet Barbara M. Reul suggests it was Heinichen who urged Fasch to incorporate elements of the Italian style in his works. And the items in the programme on this disc certainly show Italian influences. The very first work, the Ouverture grosso in D, is a good example: its title suggests a mixture of the overture-suite - a basically French form - and the Italian concerto grosso. And indeed, especially the opening overture and the closing 'aria en pologneise' contain contrasts between a concertino - consisting of strings or wind or a combination of both - and ripieno (the full orchestra). At the same time Fasch didn't forget his German roots, as the counterpoint in the overture proves.

A combination of several elements is also characteristic of the next item, the Concerto in B flat. This is not a solo concerto, but rather an orchestral concerto, with elements of the concerto grosso, combined with features of the suite: the last two movements are a bourrée and a passepied. Whereas the second movement, aria andante, is reflecting the gravitas which is a feature of German music, the two closing movements are rather modern for its time. The trio section of the bourrée is set for transverse flute, oboe and bassoon, without basso continuo. It is this aspect of his music which makes Ms Reul writing that "Fasch's exciting texture and timbre changes - the basso continuo group occasionally rests to let the other musicians shine - not only herald the advent of the pre-classical period, but also emphasize Fasch's awareness of, and insight into, what the future would hold, at least in musical terms".

The last work is the Concerto in D, this time more uniform in style: just three movements, allegro - andante - allegro. It exists in two different versions, and the andante - the only movement entirely different in both versions - is recorded twice. It is another beautiful piece of music which impressively demonstrates Fasch's skills in integrating strings and wind in his scoring.

One may conclude from this description that this is a very interesting production which should be an additional encouragement to further explore the orchestral music by Fasch. He certainly was more than just one voice in the choir; there are enough specific features to earn him a place of his own in music history.

One can only be grateful to Tempesta di Mare for this recording. Although it was recorded live I haven't heard any disturbing noises, so apparently the audience have behaved exemplary or the engineers have done a fantastic job. There is a pretty big difference in the way British and German ensembles play German baroque orchestral music. One only needs to compare performances of Telemann's overtures by, for instance, Collegium Musicum 90 on the one hand, and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin on the other hand. In my view Tempesta di Mare is somewhere between these two. The playing is characterised by a differentation between the notes, a mostly good articulation and in general a good sense of the typical idiom of German orchestral music of that period. On the other hand, there is too little dynamic shading, not just between notes, but also on single notes, and sometimes the differentiation and articulation could have been a bit sharper. I had liked the performances being more sparkling, with more 'attack' and more sharp edges.

Having said that I don't hesitate to recommend this disc, as there is plenty to enjoy, not the least the creativity and originality of Fasch's compositions. Hopefully it will encourage music lovers to further explore the oeuvre of a still underrated master of the German baroque.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Tempesta di Mare

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