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Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688 - 1758): Orchestral Works

[I] "Orchestral Works, Volume 2"
Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Gwyn Roberts, Richard Stone
rec: Oct 2010a, Marchb & Mayc 2011, Philadelphia, PA, Prebyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
Chandos - CHAN 0783 ( 2011) (74'12")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, strings and bc in D (FWV L,D5)c; Concerto grosso for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in G (FWV L,G13)a; Overture for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in a minor (FWV K,a1)b; Sinfonia for strings and bc in g minor (FWV M,g1)b

[II] "Orchestral Works, Volume 3"
Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Gwyn Roberts, Richard Stone
rec: Oct 2010a, Octd & Dece 2011, March 2012f, Philadelphia, PA, Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
Chandos - CHAN 0791 ( 2012) (66'20")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F (FWV L,F deest)e; Concerto for violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, strings and bc in D (FWV L,D8)a; Concerto for lute, strings and bc in d minor (FWV L,d1)e; Konzertsatz in F (FWV L,F3) (allegro)a; Overture for 2 horns, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, strings and bc in F (FWV K,F1)f; Overture for 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 horns, 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and bc in D (FWV K,D2)d


Johann Friedrich Fasch is one of the leading composers of the German baroque. For a long time his music has been overlooked, but in recent years it has been enjoying a revival. Especially in the last decade or so several discs have appeared which are devoted to his instrumental music. Most of his oeuvre dates from his time as Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst from 1722 until his death. Fasch wasn't just a prolific composer, he was also an avid collector of music. This resulted in a large collection of pieces which he could perform with the musicians of his chapel. Parts of this collection were purchased, but Fasch also exchanged scores with colleagues. In her liner-notes to the second of the two discs by La Tempesta di Mare Barbara M. Reul calls it a "file sharing system".

Many of Fasch' compositions have been found in the archives of the court of Darmstadt, where Christoph Graupner was Kapellmeister. Fasch had studied with him. He also had close contacts with the chapel of the court in Dresden, especially Kapellmeister Johann David Heinichen and concertmaster Johann Georg Pisendel. A number of compositions by Fasch have been preserved in the library of the Dresden court. Some of them may have been especially written for Dresden.

That could explain the prominent role of woodwind instruments in his orchestral music. The chapel in Dresden was at that time probably the best of Germany. It had many virtuosos in its ranks including flautist Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin and oboist Johann Christian Richter. It is quite possible that the concertos with a solo part for the violin were written for Pisendel, the best violinist of his time. The Concerto for lute in d minor (Vol. 3) was almost certainly composed for Silvius Leopold Weiss, Germany's most virtuosic and famous lutenist. The connection with Dresden is also relevant in regard to the size of the performing ensemble. The chapel in Zerbst was rather small: four singers and around a dozen instrumentalists. It is very likely that the court orchestra in Dresden was considerably larger and that may justify the size of Tempesta di Mare on these discs, which includes 15 strings plus woodwind, lute or theorbo and harpsichord, in some pieces joined by horns and/or trumpets and timpani.

Fasch was one of the most prolific composers of Overture-suites for orchestra in Germany, alongside Telemann and Graupner. These two discs include two specimens. The most common scoring of such works was two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo. In these two works this scoring has been extended by two flutes; in the Overture in F (Vol. 3) Fasch has also added a second bassoon part and two horn parts. Both Overtures include passages in which the winds play solo, especially in the ouverture and some of the dances. Each of the two Overtures has two movements called aria or air which are of a more cantabile character. The Overture in D (Vol. 3) is different: it has just three movements, and could have been written for a special occasion, considering the large-scale scoring for three trumpets, timpani, two horns, two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo. The brass and timpani keep silent in the middle movement, as was common at the time. In the fast movements, and especially the opening ouverture they have quite brilliant parts to play.

The horns also play an important part in the Concerto in D which opens Vol. 2. In the catalogue of Fasch' works it is ranked among the violin concertos, but the winds - pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns - can also regularly be heard in solo passages. One could probably compare this work with Vivaldi's Concerti con molti stromenti. In particular in the first movement the horns take a prominent role and play the cadenza towards the end. Vol. 3 also includes a Concerto for violin in D (FWV L:D8), and again the violin has to share its solo role with pairs of woodwinds. The middle movement has the scoring of a quartet: flute, oboe, violin and basso continuo, without tutti passages for the strings.

At the other end of the spectrum as far as the scoring is concerned are the concertos for lute and recorder. It is appropriate that in both concertos the number of strings involved in the performance seems to have been reduced. These two concertos are reminiscent of Vivaldi's concertos. As has been mentioned already, the lute concerto was almost surely written for Silvius Leopold Weiss. Barbara Reul suggests the recorder concerto could have been written for a guest artist who was visiting Zerbst. It is impossible to put a date on most of Fasch' compositions, but in his time the recorder was becoming obsolete, and therefore this concerto is one of the relatively few by German composers which have come down to us.

It is often written that Fasch represented a link between the style of the baroque and the early classical style. That seems a little exaggerated, but some works are quite modern and could well be late compositions. One example is the Konzertsatz in F which closes Vol. 3. Another is the Sinfonia in g minor (Vol. 2), one of twenty pieces with this title in Fasch' oeuvre. It is for strings and bc, and the first movement is dominated by dramatic chords. Brian Clark, in his liner-notes, compares the piece with an opera overture, written to grasp the audience's attention. Whether it has been used as such is impossible to say; Fasch did compose four operas which have all been lost. Could this piece have been used in Dresden which was famous for its opera? Also interesting is the third movement which is a fugue; the subject reminds me of the subject of the allegro (also in the form of a fugue) from the Symphony in d minor by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. In the closing movement we hear drum basses which frequently appear in orchestral music of the mid-18th century.

These discs are the second and third in what seems to be a project to explore the oeuvre of Johann Friedrich Fasch. Volume 1 was also reviewed here. These are again live performances, but there is no sign of that. These could easily be studio recordings. I was generally positive about the interpretations, but missed some dynamic shading. I found that less of a problem here; it seems the ensemble has grown in the Fasch idiom. I have greatly enjoyed these two discs primarily because of the music. Fasch proves to be one of the masters of the German baroque, and there are plenty of original ideas in the compositions on these discs. The playing of the ensemble is very good, and the winds deserve special mention for their important and impressive contributions, not least the horn players who have such an important role.

These discs are very valuable contributions to our knowledge and appreciation of Fasch's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

Tempesta di Mare

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