Johann Friedrich Fasch was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, and
that has seriously hampered the interest in his music. It was
the German musicologist Hugo Riemann, who at the beginning of
the 20th century made an attempt to restore his reputation.
In his own time he was a man of fame, whose works were known
far beyond the regions where he worked. One of the most important
of these was Leipzig where he became a member of the Thomasschule
at the age of 13. He came under the influence of Georg Philipp
Telemann, who arrived in Leipzig at the same time. Fasch, who
had taught himself to play the keyboard and the violin, started
to compose like Telemann, which he did with so much success
that some of his works were performed by the Collegium Musicum.
In Leipzig he also got to know music from elsewhere in Europe,
in particular the concertos of Vivaldi.
In 1708 he began studying law at Leipzig University, and founded
a second Collegium Musicum, in which musicians took part
who later ranked among the most famous in Germany. These included
Pisendel, Heinichen and Stölzel. From 1712 onwards he travelled
through Germany and worked in Gera, Greiz and Prague, until
he became Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst
in 1722. He refused the invitation to become Thomaskantor
in Leipzig as successor to Johann Kuhnau. He stayed in Zerbst
until his death in 1758.
The main part of his oeuvre which has come down to us consists of concertos
and overtures. Although a player of the keyboard and the violin
by profession, one of the features of his orchestral music is
the prominence of wind instruments, in particular the oboe and
the bassoon. An example is the Overture in d minor here recorded
by the Cappella Savaria. It is scored for two oboes, bassoon,
strings and b.c. It follows the traditional pattern of the orchestral
suite in that it opens with an overture, which is followed by
dances and 'arias'. Here there are two dances, a bourrée and
a menuet, and three arias. The performance is alright, but nothing
more than that. I am convinced that more can be made of this
piece. The sound of the orchestra is rather thin and not very
colourful. In the overture it seems that not all repeats are
played – presumbly because of the playing time of the disc.
The first section should be repeated before the second section
is played, and this second section should also be repeated before
the dacapo of the first section. That doesn't happen here. In
orchestral suites like this the overture is always the longest
and mostly takes about one-third of the time of the whole suite,
but here the last two movements each lasts longer than the overture.
Although there are not that many recordings of Fasch's orchestral
suites I would like to recommend discs by La Stravaganza Köln
on CPO and by Il Fondamento (directed by Paul Dombrecht) on
the Belgian label Fuga Libera.
As Kapellmeister Fasch composed a large number of sacred works,
among them nine cantata cycles all of which have been lost.
Only a handful of individual cantatas have survived, as well
as some masses and mass movements. In addition Fasch composed
the Passion which is the main work on this disc. It seems it
was not composed when Fasch was working in Zerbst, but rather
between 1717 and 1719, when he was at the church of Greiz. This
could also explain the modest scoring, with only three solo
parts. The original title is 'Mich von Stricke meiner Sünden',
after the first line of the opening chorus. It is not based
on the Gospels: Fasch uses the libretto 'Der für die Sünde der
Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus' by Barthold Heinrich Brockes,
usually referred to as 'Brockes-Passion'. The best-known Passions
on this libretto are by Handel, Telemann and Stölzel. The first
setting was by Reinhard Keiser in 1712. If Fasch's Passion was
indeed composed somewhere between 1717 and 1719 his setting
is one of the earliest in history. Fasch doesn't use the complete
libretto. As the playing time suggests he made a number of cuts.
He also changed some recitatives and added five chorales and
two arias. In particular the cuts and the addition of chorales
could well be motivated by his wish to make it more usable to
be performed in church.
The part of the Evangelist is sung by a tenor on secco recitatives. The
words of Jesus are sung - just as in Bach's St Matthew Passion
- on accompanied recitatives, scored for strings and b.c.
In the orchestra the strings are added by two oboes. In the
tenor aria 'Brich, mein Herz, zerfließ in Tränen' the scoring
is for oboe with strings playing pizzicato. In this performance
the oboe is replaced by a transverse flute "in order to
balance with the pizzicato strings", as Nigel Springthorpe
writes in the booklet. A most strange decision: if Fasch didn't
see any problems here, why should modern performers? The fact
that the flute has nothing else to play makes it even more unsatisfactory.
In the first part the soprano, referred to as 'Tochter Zions' (Daughter
of Zion), has two arias to sing, with the same musical material.
There are also two arias for tenor and one for the bass, representing
Jesus. Unlike those of the soprano these three are all da
capo. In the second part the soprano has two arias and an
accompagnato and the tenor has two. Only two arias have a da
capo structure. The first part begins with a chorus and
ends with a chorale, the second part begins and ends with a
This is the first recording of this Passion, and it is well worth listening
to. I can imagine it being performed by an amateur ensemble,
as the vocal parts seem not very demanding, perhaps with the
exception of the tenor aria 'Ihr Augen, weinet Blut', which
has a pretty high tessitura. The performance has its merits,
but I am not very excited by it. Zoltán Megyesi, who sings the
role of the Evangelist, gives a good account of the arias, but
the recitatives lack in rhythmic flexibility, and his pronunciation
of the German text leaves something to be desired. His diction
is also often less than perfect. Péter Cser, who takes the role
of Jesus, is much better in this respect. Mária Zádori (Daughter
of Zion) has sung much German baroque music - for instance with
the conductor Hermann Max - and has no problems in pronunciation
of the text. Her diction is good too, and she sings her arias
with much expression.
The choruses and chorales so not satisfy: the choir sings well, but is
too large. The chorale at the end of this work is in three stanzas.
The second is sung by a vocal quartet; much better than the
other two sung by the full choir. A performance of this Passion
with one voice per part seems much more in line with what we
know about the number of performers at courts and in churches
at the time. It is difficult to imagine that a local church
like that in Greiz would have had a choir like this available.
In addition there is too much legato singing in the chorales
and important elements in the text are not emphasized.
As much as I am grateful for the fact that this work has been recorded
I would have liked it to be presented in a more idiomatic way.
Johan van Veen