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Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656 - 1746): Vesperae, seu Psalmi Vespertini, Op. 3

Exultemus; Newton Baroque
Dir: Andrus Madsen

rec: May 5 - 9, 2014, Chestnut Hill, Mass., Church of the Redeemer
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0364 (© 2016) (63'35")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores keyboard works

[in order of appearance] Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER: Praeludium VIIIa; Domine ad adiuvandum; Beatus vir; Praeludium et fuga IVa; Confitebor; Praeludium et fuga XVIIIa; Credidi; Praeludium et fuga VIIIa; Nisi Dominus; Praeludium et fuga IIIa; Lauda Jerusalem; Praeludium et fuga XVIIa; Johann Christoph PEZ (1664-1716): Sonata for violin and bc in g minor; Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER: Magnificat; Johann Christoph PEZ: Sonata V; Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER: Salve Regina

Sources: [1] Johann Christoph Pez, Duplex genius sive Gallo-ItalusInstrumentorum Concentus, 1696, [op. 1] 17011; Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, [2]Vesperae, seu Psalmi Vespertini, op. 3, 1701; [3] Ariadne musica neo-organoedum, 1702; [4] Lytaniae Lauretanae, op. 5, 1711; [5] Blumen Strauss ... in 8 tonos ecclesiaticos eingetheilet, 1732

[Exsultemus] Shannon Canavin, Margot Rood, soprano; Thea Lobo, contralto; Gerrod Pagenkopf, alto; Charles Blandy, Jason McStoots, tenor; Ulysses Thomas, Paul Max Tipton, bass
[NB] Susanna Ogata, Julia McKenzie, violin; Douglas Kelly, viola da gamba, violone; Andrus Madsen, organ (soloa)

Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer is a pretty well-known name from music history, but almost exclusively for one reason: the 20 preludes and fugues in different keys which he published under the title of Ariadne Musica are considered a precursor to Bach's Wohltemperirtes Clavier. His music for keyboard is also by far the best-known part of his oeuvre. But he also composed a considerable number of sacred works which unfortunately is partly lost. For that reason every disc with vocal works from his pen deserves a wholehearted welcome.

Fischer was born in Schönfeld (Krásno) in Bohemia and spent his youth in Schlackenwerth (Ostrov). Around 1683 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. Probably in 1690 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.

The present disc comprises music for Vespers, one of the main services of the Christian church since ancient times, and since the Reformation especially in the Roman Catholic Church. Fischer had received part of his education at the Piarist grammar school in Schlackenwerth which indicates that he was Catholic himself. The programme follows the order of a Vespers service but cannot be considered a kind of reconstruction. The five Psalms and the Magnificat which are the fixed parts of any Vespers were embraced by an antiphon which could be replaced by a vocal or instrumental piece. Here preludes and fugues from the collection Ariadne Musica mentioned above are played as substitutes for one of the antiphons, but the other is entirely omitted. Instead of the hymn we hear the Sonata in G for violin and bc by Johann Christoph Pez, whose Sonata V for two violins, viola and bc follows the Magnificat. The programme ends with a Marian antiphon; the Salve Regina was sung between Pentecost and Advent.

Any Vespers service included five Psalms but the choice differed from one occasion to the other. The Psalms on this disc are taken from Fischer's first printed collection of sacred music, the Vesperae, seu Psalmi Vespertini, op. 3 of 1701. It includes sixteen different Psalm settings and two versions of the Magnificat. Among the Psalms recorded here the Credidi is the least-known text. (Jürgen Ochs also recorded Vesper music from this collection but selected largely different Psalms.) The Magnificat was often performed in an alternatim version but the setting performed here is through-composed. The Salve Regina is taken from Fischer's second printed collection of sacred music, the Lytaniae Lauretanae of 1711. The Psalms are all scored for four voices, two violins and bc, and so are the pieces from the 1711 collection. The latter has additional parts for two trumpets or horns, but these are ad libitum and have been omitted here.

There are several specimens of text expression in these vocal works by Fischer. In Nisi Dominus we find a chromatic descending figure on the phrase "qui manducatis panem doloris" (ye who have eaten the bread of sorrows) and the word "velociter" (swiftly) in Lauda Jerusalem is eloquently illustrated through a rhythmic figure. These are just two examples.

The second composer on this disc is far less known than Fischer. Only one piece from his pen is now and then included in Christmas concerts and recordings, the Concerto pastorale in F, for instance by Il Giardino Armonico (Teldec, 1991). Les Muffatti devoted a disc to his instrumental oeuvre (Ramée, 2007). He was an almost exact contemporary of Fischer, born one year earlier in Munich. He was also a Catholic, educated at the Jesuit school of his hometown. As a professional musician he worked at the courts of Bonn, Munich and Stuttgart. His music shows a marked influence of the Italian style and that certainly also goes for the two instrumental works played here. The performance of the Sonata V is alright but I am less enthusiastic about the Sonata in g minor where I noted a lack of dynamic differentiation. Moreover, too often all the notes get equal weight; the hierarchy within the piece is largely ignored.

This is a bit indicative of this recording as a whole, I'm afraid. The lower voices of Exultemus are pretty good but the sopranos and altos are disappointing, especially because of their incessant vibrato. That damages the ensemble but there is also a lack of balance between the voice groups. When the sopranos are singing the altos are hardly audible. The Italian pronunciation of Latin is historically unjustified. The vocal works are performed with one voice per part; in some passages they are joined by the other four voices who act as ripienists.

Like I said, every recording of Fischer's vocal works has to be welcomed, but this disc is not the most convincing argument for the quality of his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Newton Baroque

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