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Johann Friedrich Fasch and his contemporaries

[I] Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688 - 1758): "Concertos & Ouverture"
Ermanno Giacomel, transverse flutea; Guseppe Nalinb, Marco Cerac, oboe
Accademia Bach Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Carlos Grubert

rec: July 14 - 17, 1994, Padua, Abbazia Camaldolese di Carceri d'Este
Dynamic - DM8009 (R) (© 2010) (57'15")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & tracklist

Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in a minor (FWV L,a1)b; Concerto for oboe, transverse flute, strings and bc in b minor (FWV L,h2)ab; Concerto for 2 oboes, strings and bc in Gbc; Concerto for 2 oboes, strings and bc in B flat (FWV L,B4)bc; Overture for strings, 2 oboes and bassoon ad libitum and bc in G

[II] Johann Friedrich FASCH, Johann Gottlieb GRAUN & Christoph GRAUPNER: "Concertos - Arias - Sonatas"
Susanne Kelling, mezzo-sopranod; Stefano Bagliano, recordere; Fabrizio Cipriani, violinf
Collegium Pro Musica
Dir: Stefano Bagliano

rec: June 1994, Genoa, Dynamic Studios
Dynamic - DM8015 (R) (© 2010) (51'05")
Liner-notes: E; no lyrics
Cover & tracklist

Johann Friedrich FASCH: Sei nicht mehr der Sünden Knecht, ariad; Sonata (Quartet) for transverse flute, two recorders and bc in G (FWV N,G1); Sonata (Quartet) for transverse flute, two violins and bc in B flat (FWV N,B1); Johann Gottlieb GRAUN (1702-1771): Concerto for recorder, violin, strings and bc in Cbcef; Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Concerto for recorder, strings and bc in F (GWV 323)e; Machet die Tore weit, cantata (GWV 1101/27): Kommst du großer Welterretter, ariade; Tobet nur ihr Prüfungswellen, ariad

These discs are devoted to German composers who were contemporaries of Bach and Telemann, and as a result have not received the attention they deserve. Only in recent years has their oeuvre been more thoroughly explored. The central figure in both recordings is Johann Friedrich Fasch, a man of fame in his own time who in 1722 was even invited to apply for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig as the successor of Johann Kuhnau. But as he had been appointed Kapellmeister in Zerbst that same year he decided it was too soon to leave, and therefore declined. He held the position in Zerbst until his death. He stood in regular contact with colleagues. Two of them worked in Dresden: Johann David Heinichen and Johann Georg Pisendel. He spent some time there, and several of his vocal works were performed under Heinichen's direction. Fasch also exchanged music with Dresden as well as with the court in Darmstadt. A number of his instrumental compositions have been preserved in the musical archives of the respective courts.

The first disc is entirely devoted to music by Fasch. The compositions show considerable variety. The Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in a minor is in four movements, modelled after the Italian sonata da chiesa, whereas the three double concertos are in three movements, and follow the pattern of Vivaldi's concertos. The treatment of the solo instruments is also different. The two oboes in the Concerto in B flat are each other's equals, whereas in the Concerto in G the first oboe has the lead. In these two concertos the two oboes play often in parallel motion, and also colla parte with the strings in the tutti sections. By comparison the flute and the oboe in the Concerto in b minor are more independent from the strings. This concerto also contains more counterpoint, which is largely absent in the two double concertos for oboes. Most counterpoint is used in the Concerto in a minor and in the Overture in G.

The latter work is for strings and bc, although the composer has indicated the inclusion of two oboes and a bassoon ad libitum. In this recording they have been left out, for the sake of variety. It begins with the traditional ouverture, which is followed by a plaisanterie, a bourrée, a remarkably long air, a very short prélude and a menuet with trio. Together the air and the menuet take more than half of the time of the Overture. In this work the main weakness of the performances come to the fore: the ensemble leaves something to be desired, and in particular the intonation is occasionally suspect. The string playing is less polished and secure than in today's best baroque orchestras, like the Akademie für Alte Musik or the Freiburger Barockorchester, to mention just two which have recorded much German baroque music. The air lacks elegance and refinement, and the menuet is a bit too slow.

In comparison the concertos turn out better: the playing of the solo parts is generally quite good, and the integration in the tutti is well managed. In the Concerto in G I would have liked more differentation between the notes: too many passages are played in a kind of staccato which is a little old-fashioned and becomes rather stereotypical.

The liner-notes are informative, but needed better editing. One of the places where Fasch has stayed for a while is called Zeist - it should be Greitz.

With the second disc we get acquainted with two other aspects of Fasch's oeuvre: his chamber music and his sacred music. The former is represented by two sonatas for three treble instruments and bc. Such a piece was usually called a quartet, a quatuor or a quadro. Georg Philipp Telemann's quartets were especially famous and quite influential. The Sonata in G could easily be taken for a piece by Telemann who wrote a quartet for the same scoring in his Musique de Table. The Sonata in B flat was originally scored for recorder, oboe, violin and bc - also a scoring we find in Telemann's oeuvre. Here the oboe part is played at the violin as well, which is a perfectly legitimate choice. The original scoring - not mentioned in the booklet - indicates that this sonata isn't a kind of chamber concerto in which the recorder has a solo role. The three treble instruments are treated on equal terms, and there is quite a lot of counterpoint. The grave is dominated by staccato chords.

The recorder plays a key role at this disc. It opens and closes with solo concertos by two other German composers. Graupner was a strict contemporary of Fasch; both studied in Leipzig with Johann Kuhnau. He is very much his own man: whereas Fasch's music shows the influence of Telemann, Graupner is comparable to nobody else. The Concerto in F is a nice piece which clearly shows the composer's idiosyncracies. The Concerto in C by Johann Gottlieb Graun is remarkable: in his time the recorder had already fallen from grace and couldn't keep up with the increasing emphasis on virtuosity in the solo parts of concertos. The violin part is considerably more virtuosic than the recorder part. But the possibilities of the latter are certainly explored in this concerto.

The programme is rounded off with three vocal pieces. These don't appear in the work-lists of Fasch and Graupner respectively, so I assumed that these arias are taken from sacred cantatas. The booklet gives no information about their origin, and also omits the lyrics. Only in the case of Graupner's aria 'Kommst, du grosser Welterretter' I was able to find the name of the cantata to which it belongs. Amazon gives Dennoch bleib ich stets an dir as the cantata in which 'Tobet nur, ihr Prüfungswellen' appears, but I couldn't find this title in the list of Graupner's compositions. I don't know where they have got this information from. These arias are good examples of Graupner's cantata style, and show that his vocal idiom is just as unique as his instrumental. Both arias contain an obbligato instrumental part, for recorder and for violin respectively. I was not able to find the cantata from which the aria 'Sei nicht mehr der Sünde Knecht' by Fasch is taken. This is close to the style we find in many of Telemann's cantatas.

On balance I rate the performances by Collegium Pro Musica higher than those by the Accademia Bach Baroque Orchestra. The ensemble is better and so is the intonation. The playing is more up-to-date and the character of the various pieces is thoroughly explored. The only reservation regards the singing of Susanne Kelling. She has a nice voice and expresses the text well, as far as one can tell without having the texts at hand, but her considerable wobble is damaging.

That said, as the music of in particular Fasch still doesn't receive the attention it deserves, these two discs give good opportunities to get acquainted with his oeuvre. The pieces by Graupner and Graun at the second disc are nice bonuses, and well-performed. The track-lists don't give the catalogue numbers; I have added them as far as possible.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

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