The orchestral suites of Johann Friedrich Fasch follow the Baroque pattern. This is the one familiar from similar works by Telemann, with whom the annotator invokes comparisons, and by Bach, whose suites listeners are more likely to know. The opening movement is a "French overture": a slow, weighty introduction followed by a fugal Allegro, closing with a reminiscence of the slow introductory material. There follows a series of shorter movements based on dance forms, rounding things off with a menuet.
Aficionados of the Baroque will already be familiar with menuets, bourées (as they are spelled here) and gavottes. Some of the composer's other titles, however, may bear explanation. Each of the three suites, for example, includes a plaisanterie, which the annotator defines as "an amusing piece". These are pleasant enough, but none of them struck me as particularly amusing. The one in the F major suite galumphs along cheerfully enough. That in the D major suite goes with the familiar "Baroque bustle" in marked eighth-notes. The incisive one in the A minor suite is actually rather serious. The D major suite also includes a "jardiniers", the boisterous mood of which doesn't particularly suggest gardens, nature, or even a salad. Here, alas, our annotator goes silent.
Fasch's "Air"s are appealing, but don't expect anything similar to the famous Air in Bach's Third Suite. That in the F major suite moves with a fetching galant stride, while that in the D major suite could as easily have been called a menuet. Only two movements in the longer, ten-movement A minor suite - one called "Aria," the other "Air" - even hint at a sustained breadth comparable to Bach's.
A quirk of Fasch's otherwise standard orchestration is his use, and non-use, of the bassoon. In the F major suite, I hear no bassoons at all - not even doubling the low strings, as musicologists are wont to prescribe. This seems odd in a piece that includes oboes and horns. The bassoons' presence is felt, however, in the D major suite, where they add colour and lend prominence to the bass lines. They also serve a full-fledged obbligato role, à la Bach's first Brandenburg Concerto, in the severe Menuets that conclude the A minor suite.
These sprightly performances are excellent, and if you like Baroque orchestral music, you will want them. A comparatively small string body and forwardly balanced winds means that the trenchant double-reeds dominate the ensemble sonority. Fortunately, they're well-tuned and adept. Save in the second Gavotte of the A minor suite, where the players have trouble maintaining the established momentum, Pál Németh keeps things moving smartly.
To older record collectors, Fasch existed as a footnote of sorts. His Trumpet Concerto was "on the back of" Pachelbel's Canon, in Jean-François Paillard's popular recording. The present programme, along with two companion discs in Dynamic's "Delizie Musicali" series, should earn him justified discographic recognition in his own right.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.