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alternatively Crotchet


Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758)
Passio Jesu Christi (The Passion of Jesus Christ)
Ouverture (Suite) in d minor, FWV K:d5 (ed. Brian Clark) [23:34]
Passio Jesu Christi, FWV F:1 Brockes-Passion (c.1717-19) (ed. Mary Térey-Smith) [47:50]
Evangelist : Zoltán Megyesi (tenor); Jesus: Péter Cser (bass); Daughter of Sion: Mária Zádori (soprano); Schola Cantorum Budapestiensis; Capella Savaria Baroque Orchestra/Mary Térey-Smith
rec. Don Bosco Concert Room, Szombathely, Hungary, 8-10 October 2006. DDD.
Texts and translations not included – available online only.
NAXOS 8.570326 [71:24]
Experience Classicsonline

You will not find any reference to Fasch in either of the current Penguin or Gramophone Guides, so a few notes to place him in context will not be out of place. Fasch trained under Kuhnau at the Thomasschule in Leipzig; as a student, he founded the collegium musicum that is now considered to be the ancestor of the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra. On the death of Kuhnau in 1722 he was approached by the Leipzig authorities to apply for the post of Kantor. Having just received a lucrative position as Kapellmeister at Zerbst, he declined the offer and the post was offered to Telemann. When his Hamburg employers refused to release Telemann, Graupner became the candidate of choice. Graupner, too, found it impossible to obtain his release and the post eventually went to one Johann Sebastian Bach. Both Telemann and Graupner received substantial financial and other improvements to their contracts as a result of their being denied the Leipzig position.

Though the Leipzig authorities rated Bach only fourth-best, they were certainly right to think Telemann then the best qualified candidate and they appreciated Bach’s worth – the story that they thought him ‘mediocre’ is based on a misunderstanding – so there is no reason to believe that they were wrong in their high opinions of Fasch and Graupner. Certainly neither deserves to have disappeared almost without trace. Fortunately the recording companies are doing something to redress the balance. 

The Suite which opens this recording is one of a large number of such pieces which both Fasch and Telemann produced: the Telemann Suites and, arguably, those by Fasch, influenced Bach’s four Orchestra Suites. (Bach transcribed some of Fasch’s Suites for his own collegium musicum in the 1730s.) This work not be quite in the same league as Bach and Telemann – it’s best in this respect to try to forget that he was their contemporary – but it is an attractive work, often looking forward to the classical style, and it receives a stylish and lively performance here. 

The opening Ouverture is given plenty of weight, but never allowed to sound ponderous. The tempi for the two Aria movements are also well chosen – the largo fifth movement never allowed to drag – and the dance movements are suitably sprightly. Though the basic model for the Suite is French, there is some Italian-style virtuosic violin writing in the Finale, well played here (presumably) by Zsolt Kalló, first violin and artistic director. Just don’t expect the kind of pyrotechnics that we’ve had recently in baroque music from Italian violinists and conductors. The recording is good. 

If, like me, you find that this Suite has whetted your appetite to hear more of Fasch’s orchestral music, Johan van Veen made a selection on CPO 777 015-2 Recording of the Month and Zane Turner was only marginally less pleased with a CD of Fasch’s Concertos (Capriccio SACD 71049). The Archiv/Pinnock CD which ZT preferred seems to have been deleted. Capella Savaria have recorded a complete CD of Fasch’s Suites on Dynamic CDS233 – not reviewed on MusicWeb, so far as I am able to discover, but well received by other reviewers. You may also want to try a CD of Graupner’s orchestral works, including a Suite in F (MDG 341 1252-2), as recommended by Johan van Veen. 

Fasch’s Passion is a shortened version of the so-called Brockes-Passion. With a text by Barthold Brockes and first set by Keiser in 1712, Handel and Telemann also composed versions. Bach adapted parts of it for the St John Passion. Capella Savaria already have a track record in the Brockes-Passion: they recorded the Handel version some time ago for Hungaroton, reissued by Brilliant Classics in a 4-CD set, coupled with the St John Passion, somewhat dubiously ascribed to Handel, and recommended with some reservations by Robert Hugill (I’m not sure that this set is still available; it may have reverted to Hungaroton). They have also recorded the Telemann setting (Hungaroton HCD3113032, 3 CDS). 

The Fasch Passion exists in two forms; it has been edited for this recording by the conductor, the French musical scholar Mary Térey-Smith, from a manuscript in the Leipzig Stadtbibliothek. The Brockes-Passion is often criticised for its overt sentimentality but Fasch’s cut-down 48-minute version is less open to that criticism. 

This is a work on a much smaller scale than Handel’s setting or Bach’s Passions: it’s more like the 8 o’clock Communion to their 11 o’clock High Mass. Not only is the work overall much shorter, individual sections are also comparatively brief and light. The opening chorale Mich vom Stricke meiner Sünden (“To free me from the bonds of my sins, my God is bound”) lasts a mere 3:36 compared with Bach’s adapted version of the same words as an alto aria in the St John Passion (4:45 in Gardiner’s far from sluggish version). Handel opens his Brockes-Passion with a Sinfonia, then takes 5:41 in the Archiv/Wenzinger version to set the same words. Bach takes 9:13 for the opening chorus of the St John and 6:50 for that of the St Matthew Passion. 

Some of the more emotive words are set as recitative (tracks 15, 17 and 23), presumably because Fasch wanted to avoid overdoing the sentimentality. 

The agile performance of Fasch’s opening chorale sets the tone for a brisk performance. Some may find Térey-Smith’s tempi a little too brisk, but they seem just about right to me. She avoids all accusations of over-sentimentality and there is never any sense that she takes things too fast for the singers, either the chorus or the soloists. 

The Schola Cantorum sing well. I’d have liked to know how many of them there are – the booklet lists the individual players in the Capella Savaria – but they are a smallish group and they never swamp the music. Their singing of the chorale Herr, laß dein bitter Leiden (“Lord, let Thy bitter suffering”, tr.19) rounds off the first part well, with emotion and objectivity well in balance, and their account of Ein Lämmlein geht (“A lamb goes forth and bears the blame”, tr.20) opens part two equally effectively. (Did I really hear some of them sing Lammlein, not Lämmlein?) Just occasionally on track 20 some of the individual male voices sounded over prominent. 

The two male soloists give a good account of themselves, but I was less taken with Mária Zádori as the Daughter of Zion. She has a fine voice, if just a little shrill for my taste, but she seems to fail to appreciate that her role is to comment affectively, even emotionally, on the action. Some of these words, as in Gott selbst, der Brunnquell aller Guten (tr. 11) may not be to modern taste – “He begins to bleed for sinners, until He is drained of blood; from this flood of torment (Qualenfluten, emphatically not “floods of grace”, as per the translation) He offers us His blood to drink.” – but those are the words which Fasch sets and he would not have expected them to be sung in such an objective and uninvolved fashion. The contrast between her rendition on track 11 and the following choral, Ach wie hungert mein Gemüte (“O how my soul hungers”), in which the choir strikes the right balance, shows what is missing. 

Péter Cser as Jesus, an attractive light-voiced bass, is also able to keep sentiment and objectivity in balance in Mein Vater, schau, wie ich mich quäle (“My father, see how I am tormented”, tr.14). 

The same over-objectivity is true of Zádori’s singing on tracks 24 and 25. (The text says Hat dies mein Heiland leiden müssen? for tr. 24, but I am sure that she sings das, not dies. She is probably right: see below for the many errors in the libretto.) Only in Hier erstarrt mein Herz und Blut (“My heart and blood are numbed – or congeal”, tr.29) did I feel she really came close to the right balance between emotion and objectivity. 

The tenor, Zoltán Megyesi gives a much better account of himself in those arias where he comments affectively. In Sünder, schaut mit Furcht (“Sinners, see and be afraid”, tr. 16) he does not unduly tub-thump his message to sinners to repent. He also gets just the right amount of emotion in Brich, mein Herz (“Break, my heart”, tr.18) and he sounds suitably contemptuous of the foolish crowd on track 27, again without overdoing things. 

The tune of the final choral (tr. 36) is very similar to Bach’s O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden and the Palm Sunday processional hymn “All glory, laud and honour.” Bach used this tune several times, not just in his Passions and a version of it clearly existed well before his time. The fine performance of this chorale brings a recommendable version of Fasch’s Passion to a successful conclusion. With good recording throughout and at Naxos’s budget price, this CD of an otherwise unrecorded work is self-recommending, except ... 

At this stage I was about to award a thumbs-up for a very worthwhile recording ... but black marks for Naxos’s failure to include texts and translations, which are available only from their website. This is not the first time they have penny-pinched in this way; I hope it is the last, but I’m realistic enough to realise that they have now established a trend. They aren’t the only offenders, but I had hoped for better. The booklet lists the opening words of each section and the diction is clear enough for those with sufficient German, but that is not the point. An A4 printout from the web just won’t fit in the CD case without a lot of trimming and folding – couldn’t they at least make the pdf pages small enough to fit? – and what about those without web access? 

As if that were not bad enough, the libretto, once downloaded, is far from satisfactory. Minor misprints such as ‘fogt’ for ‘folgt’ and ‘cloth’ for ‘clothes’ are neither here nor there, but the translation often resorts to paraphrase, as on track 28, where the original is much abridged in the process. On track 19, the English “Lord, let thy bitter suffering be the guiding light that moves me forward to overcome my sinful desires” both adds to and subtracts from Herr, laß dein bitter Leiden mich reizen für und für, mit allen Ernst zu meiden die sündlichen Begier – “Lord, let thy bitter suffering thoroughly provoke me in all seriousness to set aside my sinful desires”. 

Worse still, both the libretto and the track-list in the booklet give the text of track 9 as Das Gott, dem alle Himmelskreise, when the soloist clearly sings the more grammatically correct Der Gott ... I have not been able to track down the original text of the Brockes-Passion, but the track listing for Wenzinger’s version of the Handel setting gives the incipit of this aria as Der Gott, which I am sure is correct. And shouldn’t the opening chorus be Mich vom Stricke meiner Sünden, as in the Handel text, not the unidiomatic Mich von Stricke ... as printed? (Bach, of course, modifies it to Von den Stricken ...) I have pointed out the mistranslation of track 11 above. Naxos should seriously consider revising both the booklet and the web libretto. If and when they do, I’ll gladly restore the thumbs-up recommendation – especially if they print the libretto inside the booklet.

Brian Wilson

see also Review by Johan van Veen


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