Early Nights in Orkney : D James Ross

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen the late Peter Maxwell Davies founded the St Magnus Festival in Orkney forty years ago, its main raison d’etre was to showcase contemporary music, and the original 1976 Festival, which I attended as a student, was built around a solid spine of Max’s own compositions. The Festival has grown in ways, which its founder could hardly have anticipated, but one very welcome development is the inclusion of a selection of early music.

Organ, Choir and Pipes, St Magnus Cathedral
Orkney’s magnificent Romanesque/Gothic Cathedral plays host to many of the Festival’s events, and Monday 20th June saw us streaming through its red sandstone portal for a concert melding contemporary, early and traditional music. This anniversary year the organisers have ‘updated’ a number of memorable events from 1976, and this concert was an adaptation of a concert for organ, fiddle and pipes. The choir were the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Voices directed by Tim Dean and it was they who gave us the bulk of the programme’s early content. After a pipe tune and an organ Chaconne based upon it, the voices came as a gentle balm, performing a group of English Renaissance polyphonic motets. Singing from the west end of the Cathedral behind the audience, they opened with a declamatory performance of Tallis’ Sancte Deus, followed by Byrd’s busy Laudibus in sanctis  and Sheppard’s ethereal Libera nos. There were lovely passages in all three works, but the positioning of the choir led to some muddiness in the Byrd and after a shaky start, the tuning never fully settled in the Sheppard. Organist Michael Bowtree contributed an impressive performance of Bach’s G-major Prelude and Fugue BWV541, demonstrating just what a fine instrument the Cathedral organ is, and also in my opinion undermining the various other contemporary works he played, making them sound by comparison like rather random ramblings. This was also the case to a certain extent with Max’s O magnum Mysterium, which sounds to me very hard to bring off and not entirely effective, the exact opposite of Victoria’s setting, which we heard later in the programme. A simply stunning anthem by Judith Weir, Ascending into Heaven, saved the honour of contemporary composers, using a range of radical techniques such as tonal clusters and glissandi to remarkable musical effect. A set of pipe tunes, delivered with great virtuosity and overwhelming volume by Pipe Major Laurence Tait softened us up for two motets by Victoria, O magnum mysterium  and Alma Redemptoris mater  before more contemporary organ music rounded off the event. RCS Voices produce a very pleasant sound, a little too fruity for my taste in the early repertoire with some intrusive vibrato in the tenor and soprano voices, but these young singers are an encouraging indication of the growing importance of early music at the Conservatoire. The northerly latitude f this Festival was brought home to us as we filed out of this late-night event into relative daylight, driving home in the legendary ‘simmer dim’ of the shortest night of the year.

Dido and Aeneas
On Tuesday 21st the Cathedral was again the venue for a triumphant collaboration between the vocal ensemble Voces8 and Florilegium under the direction of Ashley Solomon. Heading the cast as the tragic heroine Dido was operatic soprano Anna Dennis, whose portrayal of the Trojan queen was dramatically mesmerizing and musically stunning. She projected Tate’s subtle dramatic creation with enormous intensity, while enriching Purcell’s vocal lines with subtle ornamentation. In her iconic Lament, her enigmatic expression seemed to demand the audience’s remembrance rather than pleading for it. In costume and ‘off the book’, she was ably supported by the eight versatile singers of Voces8, who with strategic doubling occupied all the other roles. The fact that they were all in ‘civvies’ and reading from scores was not really too off-putting, except perhaps in Dido and Aeneas’ final fiery exchange, when Sam Dressel’s vocal score seriously got in the way. Dressel otherwise gave us a passionate and believable Aeneas, while Barnaby Smith’s venomous Sorceress and Oliver Vincent’s spirited Sailor also deserve special mention. Also worthy of mention was the superb playing of Florilegium, one to a part and superbly dramatic, supportive and pathetic by turns. I was personally delighted to hear lutanist David Miller provide two beautiful guitar grounds where Purcell indicates them, but for which no music survives – in addition to restoring these, Ashley Solomon’s realisation of the score also includes strategic repeats, all of which enhanced the normal printed version. Sometimes performances of music with which one is very familiar can be a disappointment – I prepared my own score for and conducted Dido and Aeneas with the Musick Fyne Chorus and Soloists and The Marvel Baroque Orchestra earlier this year (as well as singing Sorceress!) – but I found this performance consummately excellent and a sheer delight.

Voces8 : Eventide
Fresh from their triumphant Dido and Aeneas, Voces8 next appeared in the Wednesday late-night 10pm slot in St Magnus Cathedral with a programme entitled Eventide. This turned out to be a wide-ranging affair incorporating plainchant and Renaissance choral repertoire, through Romantic and modern music to close harmony. As with Monday evening’s concert, the dual themes of juxtaposition and exploitation of the Cathedral’s architecture were paramount, and the singers started in the apse giving a disembodied account of Orlando Gibbons’ Drop, drop slow tears  and Tallis’ O nata Lux, using the O nata lux  plainchant to advance into the choirstalls, whence they sang Britten’s youthful Hymn to the Virgin. It soon emerged that the concert would fall into similar units of contrasting music, the next of which framed a very English account of Bogoroditse Devo  from Rachmaninov’s All-night Vigil  with the two settings by Tallis of Te lucis ante terminum. In honour of the late founder of the Festival, they sang Max’s gentle Lullaby for Lucy, following it with three other secular works, two spirituals and a folksong all in close harmony. The concluding unit presented an arrangement of Fauré’s Pie Jesu  and the ubiquitous Allegri Miserere  framed in items of chant from the Requiem service, perversely sung in canon, and allowing the singers to again range from the West end to the apse for the Allegri. I find it rather curious that the group chose to construct pseudo-liturgical contexts for works, which of course would never have been heard together, and I have to say I found this and the sheer random eclecticism of the programme disconcerting. However the singing was flawlessly polished and expressive, and the group’s encore, Ola Gjeilo’s Ubi caritas, provided a suitably elegiac ending to the event. I did notice more than one audience member suppress a yawn during the ‘makey-uppy’ Allegri and I wondered idly if its days might be numbered? And my surprise that the singers hadn’t used the performance space to set up the usual contrasting solo and tutti ensembles passed when I realised that, being only eight in number, at least one singer had to sing in both choirs!

Thursday (referendum day) dawned in warmth and sunshine, and it was a wrench to abandon the beach for the dark cave of St Magnus Cathedral for a lunchtime concert by Florilegium – and to judge by a few empty seats, a wrench which some had succumbed to. Hardly had we heard the courtly opening of Telemann’s flute concerto in D and any reservations were forgotten. Ashley Solomon’s delicious flute tone floated above an accompaniment of exquisite delicacy, each note placed to perfection. This is a group which listens and watches constantly, and the result is a heady blend of unanimity and musicianship which is hard to beat. Purcell’s G minor Chacony recalled the group’s superlative playing for Dido and Aeneas  two days previously, while the strings burst into a frenzy in an explosive performance of Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata La Folia, which rose to eye-watering peaks of virtuosity. Finally the strings were rejoined by Ashley Solomon for a beautiful rendition of Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto. This work has in effect three soloists, flute, violin and harpsichord, and there is nothing like a live performance to remind one just how radical this solo role for the keyboard is. As Terence Charlston stepped out of the customary continuo shadows with cascades of solistic bravura, we had a glimpse of the sort of swirling improvisation for which Bach was renowned in his lifetime. This was a beautifully poised Brandenburg 5, benefiting from the thorough understanding the group had developed in recently recording the work.

The Hebrides Ensemble & Max
My final concert at the Festival was on a magically still and sunny Thursday evening, when Scotland’s foremost contemporary music ensemble The Hebrides Ensemble reconstructed with one or two variants a concert given forty years previously by The Fires of London. Consisting of modern music, much of it by Max, it only belongs tangentially in this review, but as I attended the original concert in 1976 when it had a major influence on my subsequent career in early music, I thought I would include it. The key works are ‘realisations’ by Max of Scottish Renaissance repertoire at that time recently rediscovered by Dr Kenneth Elliott: Kinloche his Fantasie  and the Renaissance Scottish Dances which topped and tailed the concert. Deeply influenced by chant and early music in his own compositions, Max was quick to spot the potential of this charming repertoire. From a keyboard original, he transforms the Fantasie by William Kinloche into a glittering flight of fancy for modern chamber ensemble comprising harpsichord, violin, cello, flute, clarinet and percussion. The same mix of instruments also played the 7 Renaissance Scottish Dances, drawn from Dr Elliott’s 1957 Musica Britannica volume and a collection of early Scottish Keyboard Music he published shortly afterwards. These beguiling miniatures are processed through Max’s fertile imagination into an engaging set of lively and slow contemplative movements, one of them melding two slow airs in a way only Max could have conceived of. Although it was the rest of the modernist programme, bristling with pungent harmonies and virtuosity, which tested the players most, it is the early Scottish realisations which I remembered most vividly from forty years ago, and which brought my festival to a nostalgic conclusion.

D James Ross


Festival de musique Chaise-Dieu – 22nd to 30 August 2015

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ituated at nearly 1100 metres on a promontory in the Haute-Loire, the small village of La Chaise-Dieu is dominated by the massive Benedictine abbey of St Robert. Founded in 1043, the present building dates from the 14th century, when it was built under the patronage of Pope Clement VI, who is buried in the abbey.

Today La Chaise-Dieu is best known as the venue of a music festival begun almost half a century ago with a single recital given by the great Hungarian pianist György Cziffra. From such modest beginnings the festival has developed into an event that in 2015 was spread over nine days during which more than 50 events took place. The festival was one of the first to embrace early music and period instrument performance and, while by no means restricted to such repertoire, a significant number of concerts fall into that context. Many, in keeping with the festival’s focus on sacred music, take place in the vast abbey church, but in more recent years the festival has broadened beyond the confines of Chaise-Dieu to other venues, including the historic town of Le Puy-en-Velay. In 2016 a central pillar of the festival’s 50th anniversary will be a performance of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers in the town’s famous pilgrimage cathedral.

Among notable early music visitors this summer were the countertenor Max Emanuel Čenčič, whose ‘Art of the Castrato’ programme included works by Rossi, Porpora, Leo and Handel, La Chapelle Rhénane under Benoît Haller (Bach Mass in B minor), María Cristina Kiehr with Concerto Soave (Purcell), and the concert I was able to hear on my first visit to Chaise-Dieu, given in the abbey church on 26 August by the choir Accentus and the Insula Orchestra under their founder and director, Laurence Equilbey.

The programme consisted of three works, the Miserere in C minor of Zelenka, Mozart’s Solemn Vespers, K339, and the C. P. E. Bach Magnificat, the soloists for the latter two works being Judith van Wanroij (s), Renata Pokupić (a), Reinoud van Mechelen (t), and Andreas Wolf (b). Doubtless to compensate for the vast space she had to fill, Equilbey employed unusually large choral and orchestral forces for this repertoire. While perhaps not ideal this worked well enough for the Zelenka and Mozart, but in the Bach Equilbey was unable to avoid an impression of a certain unwieldiness in passages such as ‘Et misericordia’. Elsewhere there was much to admire; the opening ‘Magnificat’ was imbued with impressive dynamic energy, as indeed the initial urgent ‘Miserere’ of Zelenka’s imposing and agreeably eccentric tripartite setting been earlier. ‘Fecit potentiam’ had splendid authority in the hands of the outstanding Wolf, while Pokupić was wonderfully sensitive in ‘Suscepit Israel’.

Most satisfying of all was the Mozart, given a performance that at once confirmed the impression given by Equilbey’s CD of the Requiem that she is that rare beast, a born Mozartian. Absence of mannerism, beautifully judged tempos and balance in both chorus and orchestra, allied to fine playing and choral singing and a fine line-up of soloists all went to contributing as satisfying a performance of the work as one is likely to encounter. Laudate pueri was notable for the clarity with which the contrapuntal texture was laid out, while Judith van Wanroij shaped Laudate Dominum with exquisite taste and a lack of sentimentality underpinned by Equilbey’s sensitive direction. Laurence Equilbey and her forces will be bringing the same programme to the Barbican Centre on 21 September. London concert goers should not miss it.

Brian Robins


Beaune Festival International d’Opera Baroque et Romantique

3–25 July 2015

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ong a Mecca for aficionados of Baroque opera, particularly those who object to the vulgarity of many of today’s stage productions, the Beaune Festival now has behind it more than three decades of presenting concert performances given by some of the finest singers and directors in the field. Traditionally one of the special features has been the open-air presentation of opera in the exquisite arcaded cour of the 15th century Hospices de Beaune. But change seems to be afoot. The 2015 season presented only two works that could be described as operas, Lully’s Armide and Purcell’s ‘semi-opera’ King Arthur, the remaining large-scale events consisting principally of oratorios or other sacred works given in the Basilique Notre-Dame.

Along with King Arthur (reviewed elsewhere), we attended two oratorio performances: Handel’s Jephtha with the Namur Chamber Choir and Accademia Bizantina under the direction of Ottavio Dantone (17 July), and the first modern performance of Porpora’s Il trionfo della Divina Giustizia (24 July), given under the direction of Thibault Noally.

In Britain we tend to take a proprietary view of Handel’s oratorios, so the chance of hearing the last – and arguably greatest – of them conducted by a leading Italian early music director was an intriguing prospect. I have to confess that Dantone has not always been a favourite conductor, some of his performances seeming to me too mannered and lightweight. Here such concerns were immediately swept away by Dantone’s fervour and the depth of string tone produced by Accademia Bizantina, whose playing was on the highest level throughout. Such impressions were enhanced by the commanding presence and authority of bass Christian Immler in Zebul’s opening recitative and aria ‘No more to Ammon’s god’ and further confirmed by the commitment, power and articulation of the excellent Namur choir. The love scenes between Hamor (alto Delphine Galou) and Iphis (soprano Katherine Watson), were done with an exquisite Italianate warmth and sensual affection that made their final parting a more central and poignant part of the denouement than usual. The duet ‘These labours past’ became a glorious poem to love. In her later affliction Watson was deeply affecting in her song of parting, ‘Farewell, ye limpid streams’, sung with the pellucid grace Watson brought to all Iphis’ music. The young Swedish tenor Martin Vanberg sang stylishly as Jephtha without ever attaining the tortured dramatic intensity of the finest interpreters of the role. His ‘Open thy marble jaws’ never quite conveyed the horror of the moment, although ‘Waft her, angels’ attained a gracious lyricism. His wife Storgè was Gaëlle Arquez, a Beaune protégée I’ve kept a close watch on since she first appeared as a soprano in 2011. Since then she has moved down to mezzo parts and indeed her Storgè included some impressive chest notes of true alto quality, ‘Let other creatures die?’ directed at her husband with venomous fury. Caroline Weynants’ Angel deserves special mention for a thoroughly appealing ‘Happy, Iphis’, while the final scene was in part redeemed from its usual sense of anti-climax by the lovingly expressed exchanges in the duet between Iphis and Hamor. It remains only to add that in a cast with only one native English speaker, diction and pronunciation were in the main unexceptionable.

Virtually the whole festival took place during the remarkable heat wave experienced by much of central and southern France during July. It made for uncomfortable conditions in the basilica for both performers and audience. In the case of the latter it also brought out numerous examples of that irritating species, the fan waver. At the Porpora I had the misfortune to sit behind a particularly exotic member of the breed, a lady who seemed quite oblivious that her unceasing activity might just have been a distraction to those around her. That aside, however, this was another unusually satisfying and rewarding evening. Il trionfo della Divina Giustizia is one of Nicolo Porpora’s earlier works, first given in April 1716 in San Luigi di Palazzo in Naples. Scored for strings and four solo singers, whose roles are those of the Virgin (Delphine Galou), the allegorical figure Giustizia Divina (mezzo Blandine Staskiewicz), Mary Magdelene (soprano Emmanuelle de Negri) and St John (Martin Vanberg), the oratorio is an examination of the emotions of the protagonists in the aftermath of the Crucifixion. The anonymous libretto inspired the 30-year-old Porpora to a score suffused with pain and anger, expressed in music of intense chromaticism and dissonance. Among many notable numbers I would note especially the madrigalian quartet set over a running bass that concludes Part 1, the wonderful flowing duet for the Virgin and Giustizia that opens Part 2, and, perhaps above all, ‘Occhi mesti’, the final aria for the Virgin, where upper strings senza basso attain a rapt, chromatic intensity over the mother’s near inexpressible grief. The role brought more supremely accomplished singing from Galou, but overall both singing and playing would have benefited from rather fewer broad brushstrokes and a more subtle sense of light and shade. Nonetheless, I’m more than happy to have made the acquaintance of yet another outstanding work by this Neapolitan master in such a good performance.

Brian Robins


Musings on a “Court of Muses”

The 13th International Fasch Festival
Zerbst/Anhalt, Germany, 15-19 April 2015

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ohann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758) served as court Kapellmeister of Anhalt-Zerbst for 36 years, from 1722 to his death. The first Fasch “Festtage” were organized by local Zerbst enthusiasts in 1983, who also celebrated the 200th anniversary of Fasch’s death in 1988 in style. Since 1995, this small but excellent festival in Saxony-Anhalt has been co-hosted by the town of Zerbst (c. 90 km north of Leipzig) and the International Fasch Society.

The opening ceremony of the 13th International Fasch Festival on 15 April, Fasch’s 327th birthday, included the usual speeches by officials and festive music. The most moving part, however, was the laudatory speech given by Fasch scholar Prof. Manfred Fechner in honour of this year’s recipient of the Fasch Prize: the German harpsichordist, conductor, musicologist Ludger Rémy. His most recent CD with Les Amis de Philippe consists entirely of orchestral pieces (“overture symphonies”) by Fasch that were introduced to 21st-century audiences at the 12th International Fasch Festival in 2013; the CD is available on the cpo label (777 952-2).

The 2015 opening concert featured Bach’s Erben, a youth orchestra specialising in Baroque music. It is based at Kloster Michaelstein, the home of the Musical Academy of Saxony-Anhalt which promotes early music performance practice and education ( To see and hear these youngsters from all over the world expertly engage with Fasch’s music and that of his contemporaries was exciting – clearly, they have all been bitten by the “Baroque bug”, which bodes well for the future.

The highpoint of this year’s Festival was, without doubt, the modern premiere of Fasch’s setting of the St John Passion, dating from c. 1748. Dr Gottfried Gille, 2013 Fasch Prize recipient, had prepared the performing edition and left it in the capable hands of university music director Jens Lorenz, the “J. F. Reichardt” chorus of the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, and the Händel-Festspielorchester Halle. All four vocalists excelled; particularly outstanding was Tobias Hunger, the evangelist and solo tenor. Fasch’s St John Passion had intentionally been scheduled on 16 April 2015, an important date in the history of Zerbst. It marked the 70th anniversary of the town’s destructions by allied forces in 1945. The performance was broadcast live by the Central German Radio (MDR), and I would argue that this work presents a new milestone in Fasch’s compositional output. His extremely sensitive setting of the Biblical text, interspersed with highly visual devotional poetry, had me on the edge of my seat for the entire time – especially impressive were the massive opening and closing choruses (the latter featuring horns!); the many action-oriented accompanied recitatives with seamlessly woven-in turbae choruses; and Fasch’s hauntingly beautiful arias, most importantly the stunning “Cavata” for tenor (“Verblendeter!”) as well as an aria for alto (“Meine Ruhe blüht im Tode”), which followed the announcement of Jesus’ death on the cross and gave me goosebumps. Conceiving large-scale works like these would have required all of Fasch’s intellectual and creative attention; no wonder he repeated cantata cycles at the court chapel on a regular basis!

The international scholarly conference began on Friday, 17 April, focusing on Anhalt-Zerbst as a “Court of Muses” during Fasch’s tenure as Kapellmeister. Prof Wolfgang Hirschmann (Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg) presented the keynote address which contextualized Volker Bauer’s 1993 fives types of courts (supposedly) prevalent during the early modern period. One is the “Court of Muses”, a somewhat ambiguous term. It refers to rulers who, for instance, built huge palaces and promoted the fine arts and literature as part of a broader, political agenda. Was that the case in Anhalt-Zerbst (and elsewhere)? Prof Ursula Kramer (University of Mainz) showed how the term “Musenhof” – actually a 19th-century invention – had changed over time. She also cleverly suggested that it was not only the presence and absence of male rulers, but that of their wives, mothers, sisters, etc., which could and would significantly shape – and transform – a court. Rashid-S. Pegah (Berlin) had examined the extant correspondence of Prince Johann Ludwig II of Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, taking a closer look at his education, trips, and musical collection. Pegah felt that the court of Zerbst aligned more closely with the “Hausväterlicher Hof” type, where rulers valued privacy above all. Next, Dirk Herrmann, the author of the seminal book on the Zerbst palace, illustrated its various building phases in the 18th century. The Zerbst princes’ continued interest in, and financial commitment to fixing up the palace in Jever (a former enclave of Anhalt-Zerbst) was the topic of a paper presented by the director of the Schlossmuseum in Jever, Prof. Antje Sander (Varel).

After lunch Konstanze Musketa (Händel-Haus Halle) drew attention to Gottfried Taubert, the author of the famous 1717 treatise “The righteous dancing master”. He spent 16 years as dancing master in Zerbst, and according to a newly discovered entry in the court chapel registers, died there in 1746. References to his permanent employment in Zerbst are, however, curiously absent. Perhaps he was paid directly by the princely family, rather than the court. Barbara M. Reul (Luther College, University of Regina, Canada) introduced 17 previously unknown printed librettos that are held at the Historische Bibliothek of the Francisceum Secondary School in Zerbst. While no music survives, these primary sources document performances between 1722 and 1756 at Zerbst’s “princely school”, St Bartholomäi, in honour of headmasters and superintendents. She also examined a hitherto-unknown printed source confirming the presence of Prussian comedians in Zerbst in the mid-1740s, who entertained at the court and in town.

The first conference day was concluded by Ralph-Jürgen Reipsch (Telemann Research Centre, Magdeburg) and Bernd Koska (Bach Archive, Leipzig). Reipsch drew attention to a boy treble from Magdeburg, Christian Wilhelm Stammer, who performed at the Zerbst court in 1738. He was supposed to join the court Kapelle as a boy treble, but died shortly before he was able to take up the role. Bernd Koska’s paper was based on his enlightening book on the Gera court Kapelle at the beginning of the 18th century (ortus, 2013). Fasch composed a secular work for Gera in 1715; sadly, only the title page of the libretto, but no music survives. Koska also emphasised that Fasch could have come into contact with Pietists a decade earlier (i.e. while serving in Gera) than previously assumed.

On Friday, 17 April, the many festival guests who had flocked to Saxony-Anhalt from all over the world were treated to two lovely concerts. Epoca Barocca had chosen a wonderfully varied mixture of vocal and instrumental music, with soprano Silvia Vajente and bassoonist Katrin Lazar stealing the show in the Zerbst “Ratssaal”; this was the first time this beautiful auditorium had been used as a performance venue during a Fasch Festival. The popular “Fasch midnight” show at the (partially restored) Zerbst palace featured Ensemble Calmus. Their entertaining programme entitled “Touched: Love song from the Renaissance to the present” not only brought a lighter tone to the Festival, but also attracted a younger, but no less enthusiastic audience.

The second half-day of conferencing began with two papers in English that focused on works with a Zerbst connection. Janice B. Stockigt (University of Melbourne) carefully traced how a Missa in D by Alessandro Scarlatti found its way from Italy to Zerbst via Prague and Dresden. The fact that this mass was also the final work to be performed at the closing concert of the 2015 Festival made her paper even more valuable. Samantha Owens (University of Queensland) masterfully contextualized a hilarious hunting song by James Hook, “Ye sluggards who murder your lifetime in sleep” from the mid-1770s, which is preserved in the Zerbster Musikstube collection at the Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt in Dessau. Next, Nigel Springthorpe (Royal Holloway University, London) examined selected correspondence of Fasch’s colleague and successor, Johann Georg Röllig. In addition to explaining Röllig’s dire employment situation in the 1780s, Springthorpe drew attention to Röllig’s works for the Swedish royal family (first cousins of Catherine the Great, a former princess of Anhalt-Zerbst). Gottfried Gille (Bad Langensalza) prefaced his detailed examination of Fasch’s St John Passion with comments on how he had rescued music by the Zerbst Kapellmeister in the 1960s – he is truly a Fasch scholar of the first hour.

The final conference session opened with a paper presented by Peter Wollny (Bach Achive, Leipzig). He identified Christian Gotthilf Sensenschmitt, Cantor in Meerane (a small town 140 km south of Leipzig), as the copyist of an Ascension cantata, “Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein” (FR1232) by Fasch. While he expressed doubts regarding the Zerbst Kapellmeister’s authorship of that particular work, Wollny voiced none about the once contentious two-part cantata “Willkomm du Licht” (FR701/1) by Fasch, of which he had located another manuscript copy. Maik Richter (Halle/Saale) provided compelling evidence that Fasch had composed two more pieces for the court of Anhalt-Köthen than previously assumed: a “Trauermusik” in 1732 for the funeral of Princess Christiana Johanna Aemilia, and wedding music in 1742 for the daughter of Prince August Ludwig, Christiana Anna Agnese and Count Heinrich Ernst zu Stolberg-Wernigerode. Hannes Lemke (Zerbst/Anhalt), the newly appointed head of the St Bartholomäi Church Archives in Zerbst, concluded the conference with a brilliant paper on Fasch’s privately motivated actions at the court. Lemke has been tasked with cataloguing centuries worth of (mostly) unknown or thought-to-be-lost primary sources of interest to musicologists, theologians, and historians alike. He chose to focus on documents that outline when Fasch went to confession over the course of his 36-year tenure, and with whom. This information allows us not only to pinpoint exactly when the Kapellmeister was in town, but also helps clarify his position at court. Finally, Lemke came full circle by pointing out that regardless of what was happening at the Zerbst court, Fasch successfully created his own version of a “Musenhof” in his music.

On Saturday afternoon, another new performance venue was introduced to the audience. The “Tempelsaal” of the former Masonic Lodge in Zerbst is an intimate venue, perfectly suited for Ludger Rémy’s small Capell und Taffel-Music ensemble. They wowed the audience with delightful chamber music for a variety of woodwind instruments, including the rare “oboes da silva”, instruments which Fasch is known to have bought for use at the Zerbst court. The ensemble repeated their programme on Sunday, 19 April, at the Baroque church in Burgkemnitz, which Central Germany Radio recorded for broadcast. On Saturday night, La Ritirata added lots of Spanish flair to German and Italian music from the first half of the 18th century. In addition to playing audience favourites like Vivaldi’s “Alla rustica” concerto, they performed a gorgeous violin concerto by Fasch – hearing it played live, and with such passion, puts any recording to shame.

The last day of the Festival began with a festive service held at St Bartholomäi Church. The congregation was treated to both the modern premiere of a church cantata by Fasch from 1736 and a cantata written by Fasch’s “Herzensfreund” (friend of the heart), Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, court Kapellmeister at Gotha. Moreover, the Zerbster Kantorei and Cammermusik Potsdam, under the energetic direction of Cantor Tobias Eger, framed the worship experience with music by Telemann and Bach.

The 13th Internationl Fasch Festival closed with a delightful concert that included music by Fasch senior, Fasch junior (Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, best known as the founder of the Berlin Sing-Akademie chorus), and the modern premiere of the Scarlatti Missa mentioned above, directed by Wolfgang Katschner. In addition to his ensemble, the Lautten Compagney, which excelled in two orchestral suites by J. F. Fasch, the alto soloist, Julia Böhme, deserves special mention.

Overall, the 13th International Fasch Festival presented a well-balanced programme with a pleasant variety of ensembles and concert programmes. The conference was equally stimulating; the papers will be published in vol. 13 of the IFG’s Fasch-Studien series. Looking ahead, the 14th International Fasch Festival is scheduled to take place from 20 to 23 April 2017. The focal point will be “From Luther to Fasch” to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. After all, Zerbst is only a 45-minute drive from Wittenberg, and was one of the first towns in which Luther preached; its historical significance cannot be overestimated. The scholarly conference will focus on Fasch and religion, a topic that is bound to capture the imagination of a large interdisciplinary, global scholarly community.

Barbara M. Reul