Notes and Editorial Reviews
Overtures: in F,
FWV K F3;
FWV K A2.
Sinfonias: in A,
FWV M A2;
FWV M G4.
Concertos: in F,
FWV L F2;
FWV L D22
Ludger Rémy, cond; Les Amis de Philippe (period instruments)
cpo 777 424 (76:40)
Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758) was the third wheel, if you will, of the late German Baroque tricycle, its other two wheels of course being Telemann and J. S. Bach. Of the three, however, Fasch soon became a footnote to music history, but not for a lack of talent or industry. Quite to the contrary: his catalog of works is extensive—at least four operas, somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 sacred cantatas, numerous masses, motets, psalm settings, a Passion, nearly 100 suites, some 75 concertos, 24 sinfonias, and 36 or more trio sonatas and quartets for various combinations of instruments. And he was regarded in his time as an innovator who made important contributions to the early development of the Classical symphony. So what happened? It’s hard to say. It didn’t help matters that not a single score by Fasch was printed in his lifetime; this, even though his close ties to the Dresden court orchestra and its concertmaster, Johann Pisendale, did for that ensemble what Johann Stamitz’s association with the Mannheim orchestra would do for that institution just a few years later.
Though Fasch’s permanent base of operations was Zerbst, much of his music is known to have been composed for the Darmstadt and Dresden court orchestras; in fact, all of the works on this disc, believed to have been written between 1730 and 1755, are identified as “Dresden Sinfonias and Concertos.” The distinction between them, insofar as titling is concerned, is a bit difficult to pin down. All but one follow the three-movement layout of the Italian sinfonia; but it seems that Fasch had his own ideas about musical nomenclature and applied them fairly liberally. Thus, the two works in this collection that carry a title of “overture” are of a hybrid nature. They are not sinfonias in the Italian manner, for even though they are in three movements, their first movements are overtures in the French style—i.e., a slow, dotted-rhythm introduction, followed by a fast fugal section, and a concluding return to the opening material. In this, they are similar to the opening movements of Bach’s orchestral overtures (suites), but there the similarities end, for they are not followed, as they are in Bach’s suites, by a sequence of dance movements, but rather by a moderately paced air and a concluding Allegro movement. The odd piece out in this collection, at least in terms of movements, is the Sinfonia in G Major, which takes the four-movement form of an early Classical symphony, but is still rooted in a Baroque style.
The two concertos are a delight. Fasch seemed to have had a special ear for exploiting the sonorities of diverse wind instruments, even more effectively, I think, than did Telemann in his many similarly scored works.
Needless to say, these are period-instruments performances, but not of the sort I’ve railed against loudly and often enough in these pages. No, these are among the best I’ve heard, distinguished by crisp, alert, refined, and disciplined playing, pitch perfect intonation, and a balance and integrity of ensemble that one hears in the very best of modern-instrument chamber orchestras. For once, I was able to listen without fear of the next squeak, squawk, or sour note that might be lying in wait in the next measure. But more than the technical polish and finesse of this superb group are the high spirits and pure joy that Ludger Rémy and Les Amis de Philippe bring to Fasch’s scores. Music-making, in its finest sense, is what happens when the players are masters of their instruments and no longer have to worry about such mundane things as playing the right notes at the right time.
This is my first encounter with this ensemble, but they have recorded, among other things, concertos by C. P. E. Bach and Manfredini, and have received plaudits in these pages from William H. Youngren, Robert Maxham, and Brian Robins. My name can now be added to that list. Enthusiastically recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins