Ensemble Marsyas - Fasch - Fanfare

Much has already been written in Fanfare about Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758), so I refer you to the Fanfare Archive if you are wanting information about him. In listening to these quartets and chamber concertos, there were moments when I thought I was on the verge of a Baroque epiphany—Fasch shows some inspired surprises and harmonic twists here and there, like ending an introductory movement in a different key than it began. The variety of wind instruments featured and some details in the writing remind me of Zelenka’s quirky and innovatory sonatas. The annotator describes the B♭Quartet that opens the program as one of Fasch’s most popular works, and it is an attractive one. But on the whole, I find these to be pleasant, conventional, and fairly formulaic works in the German High Baroque style. The melodies are friendly and engaging and the counterpoint expertly done, but somehow Fasch’s music fails to really distinguish itself from the mass of music from the same place and period. These sonatas lack the genius and inspiration I have heard in similar works by Zelenka and Janitsch, for example.

The soloists certainly give it their all. Peter Whelan is a remarkably articulate and expressive player of the Baroque bassoon, with a beautiful cantabile sound. His long held notes are exquisitely shaped, but at times the swell overpowers the more important moving lines around him. The ensemble gives the minor-key works a weighty, somber dignity that is appealing. However, some of the more cheerful movements suffer from a contrived enthusiasm, as if the players are trying too hard to make the music interesting. Plucked continuo used along with harpsichord has become something of a gimmick now, and to my taste it is overused here. Too much rhythmic impetus carries the risk of slight instability and compression in fast music. However, no faults are overwhelming, the performances are brightly appealing on the whole, and if you have enjoyed this composer on previous releases, you will probably enjoy this one.

01 January 2020