C F C Fasch: Works for Keyboard

Philippe Grisvard fortepiano attrib. Stein (c1790)
Audax Records ADX13725

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Anyone who knows me knows my reputation as a Fasch scholar; that is to say that I am considered something of an expert on the music of Johann Friedrich Fasch, who took half a dozen gap years after his studies in Leipzig before accepting the position of Kapellmeister to the court of Anhalt-Zerbst, which he held until his death in 1758. Only two years before he passed away, his son – whose keyboard music is recorded here for the first time – moved to take up the position of second harpsichordist at the Prussian court of the king we English speakers call Frederick the Great, where he alternated with C. P. E. Bach in accompanying the monarch’s performances on flute. But he did much more besides, primary among his achievements being the foundation of the great choral society, the Berlin Singakademie.

When the focus of conferences held in Zerbst has shifted from the father to the son, I must confess that I have not had much enthusiasm; where the older man’s music speaks directly to me, the little I had heard of the younger Fasch’s music always seemed to start well but not have enough to sustain it. This new CD has forced me to challenge that opinion. Grisvard presents a composer who is full of ideas, and clearly an excellent keyboard player! The three three-movement sonatas each have their own character, and the shorter character pieces are full of wit and drama; they are not quite as arresting as some of his colleague Bach’s more daringly chromatic music, but they do sometimes surprise the listener, which can only be a good thing! Anything they could do, Grisvard can, too – this recital (ending with what was the composer’s most celebrated keyboard piece, am Ariette with 14 variations) is an outstanding display of virtuosity, but also a demonstration of commitment, drawing out a profundity to some of the darker music that I had thought Fasch incapable of. The fact that he studied with Johann Wilhelm Hertel, whose chamber music, in particular, reveals a similarly melancholic streak, is telling; he was also praised for his stylish improvised accompaniments by the violinist Franz Benda, showing that he was spontaneously brilliant. These might equally describe Grisvard’s approach – and cause us to regret Fasch’s decision later in life to destroy many of his manuscripts. As usual with Audax, the presentation is classy and meticulous.

If M. Grisvard felt inclined to follow this recording up with a disc of sonatas by J. W. Hertel (especially with the same recording engineer), I for one would not complain.

Brian Clark


C. P. E. Bach: Lieder

Mariví Blasco soprano, Yago Mahúgo fortepiano, Impetus Madrid Baroque Ensemble
Brilliant Classics 95462

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is certainly an interesting collection of a repertoire that was wholly unknown to me. This CD offers a selection of 26 of C. P. E. Bach’s more than 180 Lieder, and the liner notes include interesting comments on the origins and development of the genre. I find that a little goes a long way.

There is some reference to an older style, like the almost Handelian fugato  in the opening of Trost der Erlösung  (track 4), but most pre-figure an almost Mozartian sense of tuneful line as in Weihnachtslied  (8). In Gott, der Ernährer der Menschen  (12) there are quotations from the chorale Vater Unser, that introduce a more churchy element to these largely drawing-room meditations.

In the second half of the disc, selected songs are performed – following the composer’s suggestion – without the singer! The texts of the sung pieces are given in German and English, but only the titles of the rest. Are these mood pieces the original ‘Songs without Words’? They underline the feature I find most trying about these Lieder, which is that the singer’s line is almost always doubled by the fortepiano. Not only does this raise questions of tuning: the keyboard is tuned in Young at A=430, but occasionally the singer and the keyboard are not entirely on it, and it also makes ornamentation difficult.

Blasco’s clean voice has some of the brittle clarity of the fortepiano, chosen for the earlier songs published in 1758 as well as the later that date from the early 1780s. Her diction fulfils the expectations of such Lieder collections – that the lyrics of such poets should be better known. The fortepiano playing is clean, and the CD has a gathering around a cottage piano on a Sunday evening feel about it. Perhaps I am just too out of sympathy with the theology as well as the compositional style to give this a fair review, but, in spite of perfectly good performances, it doesn’t do much for me.

David Stancliffe

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