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Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758)
Missa in G [34:24]
Suite in A minor [18:53]
Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen [20:26]
Veronika Winter (soprano), David Erler (alto), Tobias Hunger (tenor), Matthias Vieweg (bass), Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert / Hermann Max
rec. 2017, Kirche St. Trinitatis zu Zerbst, Anhalt, Germany
CPO 555 176-2 [73:55]

Despite having a number of discs of the music of Johann Friedrich Fasch, I never knew that he was a Pietist composer until I read the booklet notes for this disc, which discusses both this in the context of his compositions for the Lutheran Church and the place of the Mass. He was born in Buttelstedt near Weimar and was the son of a schoolmaster. After his father’s early death in 1700, the two-year-old was sent to live with his maternal uncle and clergyman, Gottfried Wegerig in Göthewitz. It was here that his musical education began; he became a choirboy at Weissenfels and studied under the German composer, music theorist, novelist, translator and lawyer, Johann Kuhnau, and for a short time with Christoph Graupner in Darmstadt in 1714. He served in various positions throughout Germany before securing the post of Kapellmeister in the court of Count Morzin in Prague, then in 1722 he became the court music director for the Prince of Zerbst, a position he would retain for the rest of his life. In Zerbst, Fasch was called upon, amongst many other tasks, to compose the church music of all the services at the Zerbster Hof.

A number of years ago the Rheinische Kantorei and Das Kleine Konzert under Hermann Max released a wonderful disc containing two of Fasch’s cantatas and while the soloists may have been different, here we get an equally engaging performance, it is just a pity it has been sixteen years between releases. What both of these discs have in common is that they present religious works with a purely orchestral suite or overture, the juxtaposition giving the disc the feeling of a concert. The Missa in G Major, the editions and the makeup of which is discussed thoroughly in the booklet, is divided in accordance with the Lutheran tradition of the day into three constituent parts, the Kyrie, the Gloria and the Credo and is therefore a Missa Brevis, although at over half an hour there is nothing brief about this setting. It is a wonderful setting which alternates between the soloists and chorus to great effect with some excellent support from the orchestral players and especially the organist Bernwald Lohr. The notes talk of the Crucifixus section of the Credo as a highpoint, and here I must agree; with its biting string introduction, it almost points towards Mozart. However, this is not the only highpoint; take the opening of the Gloria, which begins with a solo voice in a muted plainsong-like announcement before the exulting chorus and the swirling strings enter, the result being quite wonderful.

The second work on this disc is the Suite, or Overture in A Major. It opens with a moderately paced but stately Overture which becomes jauntier in the central section before returning to the music of the opening. There are some attractive slow arias here, but it is in the faster music that Fasch excelled; the Bourrée for example almost has the air of a hunt, whilst the Aria Presto is quite joyous. The Suite displays the undoubted talent of Das Kleine Konzert; their playing is excellent throughout;, their string sound is wonderful whilst the playing of the oboists and bassoonist deserve special mention.

The final work on the disc is a wonderful cantata Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen, which opens with a quite lovely Dictum introduced by the orchestra, then Veronika Winter makes her entry before being joined by the full chorus; the effect is very effective and memorable. This sets the scene well, especially when followed by the lovely Recitativo with its pared-down accompaniment. There is some wonderful singing here; the Alto’s solo aria Gott schenket uns sein einges Kind, for example is excellent, as is the quartet singing in Die höchste Kraft verschmähet nicht. The choral singing, especially in the short Chorale Lob, Ehr und Preis sei Gott and the concluding chorus Ertöt uns durch dein' Gute is exceptional in its control. J S Bach was a great admirer of the music of Johann Friedrich Fasch and in this cantata it is easy to see why. Fasch nearly applied for Bach’s position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig; things could have been so different if he had.

This music on disc is wonderfully performed throughout, with all the soloists, chorus and instrumentalists contributing greatly to the finished article. However, the high production standards do not stop there; the recorded sound and the presentation of the booklet which includes full texts and translations in German and English add to the overall enjoyment of this very fine disc.

Stuart Sillitoe

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