Thursday, April 7, 2011

Johann Friedrich Fasch: Concerti - Il Gardellino

Johann Friedrich Fasch
Il Gardellino
Accent ACC 24182

The 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758) arrived last year. Fasch wasn’t ignored, but his anniversary appears to have been under-celebrated, as was Telemann’s when the tercentenary of his birth occurred in 1981. Fasch was another one of those composers who, like Graupner and Heinichen, has been overshadowed by composers like Telemann and Vivaldi.

Fasch undertook a long journey that involved several courts and cities, including a tenure in near ideal circumstances in Prague with Count Morzin, but it was only after the third time that a position in Zerbst landed in his lap (and following a letter to the composer from his father-in-law) that Fasch made the change. Fasch would spend the rest of his life there, although in his last years he faced constant financial difficulties as evidenced by surviving numerous petitions received by Fasch’s employer. Fasch’s reticence to make the change appears to have been well founded, as the workload in Zerbst was immense. He not only had to compose a large quantity of church music, but also provide music for special occasions and perform time-consuming and laborious administrative work. These responsibilities made the Zerbst post one of the most coveted in the region, and Fasch made an effort to keep it so by establishing and maintaining contact with Johann Christoph Graupner in Darmstadt (with whom Fasch studied for three months in 1714), Johann Georg Pisendel and Johann David Heinichen in Dresden, and Georg Philipp Telemann in Hamburg. In this way, Fasch was able to have his music performed outside of Zerbst and thereby establish a reputation in important music centers. But this turned out to be a quid pro quo, as it gave Fasch an opportunity to access and presumably perform music from other courts. This accounts for the fact that there are several sources for some of Fasch’s works, making it difficult to assess. But it appears that most of the vocal works are lost while most of the instrumental works survive.

Fasch’s output includes 87 orchestral suites scored for a variety of instruments, including just over six dozen concertos. These form the next most significant portion of Fasch’s instrumental output. With the exception of four concertos (none of which are included here), they follow the three-movement plan generally attributed to Vivaldi. But unlike his Dresden colleagues, Fasch turned away from the excessive virtuosity and flamboyance of Vivaldi and embraced the more restrained style of Telemann. The manuscripts of the concertos recorded here are housed in Darmstadt and Dresden, with those featuring multiple soloists reflecting the makeup and taste of the Dresden orchestra, which at the time, was one of the finest in Europe.

Fasch was no Bach, so there is nothing esthetically revelatory about the music offered on this recording, but there is much to appreciate in these conservatively paced, nicely colored, and admirable interpretations that are consistently fresh and intelligent. Though there isn’t a great deal of tonal variety, these recordings do offer an elemental beauty of tone, and afford much pleasure, even with the occasional repeated listening. The SACD format augments the sound, creating a wholly realistic aural environment.

Michael Carter, Fanfare

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