For many years I have been editing the music of Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758). I really love it – he has a great gift for writing catchy tunes and rich harmonies. But every now and then, one comes upon a piece where he seems to have come upon an idea that has fascinated him; sometimes to such an extent that a whole piece can be dominated by it. An example is the orchestral suite in G minor for 3 oboes, bassoon and strings. There’s something slightly sinister and angsty about the whole piece, mostly because it is as if Fasch had stumbled upon the diminished 7th chord, and the dominant minor 9th – in other words, two of the most uncomfortable chords imaginable, desperately seeking resolution, but also pregnant with harmonic possibilities.
In other pieces, he seems to obsess on a particular rhythm. This is the case in the sister orchestral suite in G major, again for three oboes, bassoon and continuo. Here both the opening section of the French overture with which the suite begins and the ensuing “fugue” use the same rhythm. All previous renditions I have heard failed to solve the conundrum of how to make two such similar pieces work side by side with one another. Prima la musica! recently produced a new edition of the work, and it was used for the first time in a recent concert in Poland by a baroque orchestra called Musica Humana. If you have never heard of them, don’t worry – I had not either. Just remember that you read about them here first, as this is a formidable ensemble with a very bright future ahead of them!
Their approach is simply to allow the opening section, typically treated as rather edgy (let’s say mostly over-dotted) manner, making more drama of the style than the music, to relax and breathe, almost in a 12/8 sort of way – allowing the strings plenty of time to resonate and the wind players lots of time to shape their notes in a way that a faster tempo would have prevented. Then the faster middle section is just that – not the blur of notes at the speed of light, mind; instead we hear sprightly oboes and wonderfully dexterous ensemble from the strings (especially nice to hear the violas’ contribution!) The remainder of the suite is equally fresh and, somehow, just right. My favourite moment (which I hesitate to mention, as some people will find the very idea shocking and heretical) is in Fasch’s “signature movement”, the Jardiniers: just as he is about to re-introduce the theme towards the end of the second half, they let the music die away to nothing, and then dramatically burst in at full volume – I can imagine this being just the sort of joke Mr Fasch would have loved
Musica Humana are certainly no one-trick pony, though – the other work on the live recording they sent me was a sinfonia by Bach, in which once again the mellifluous woodwinds were beautifully balanced by the incisive string playing.
Their next orchestral project in Warsaw is a concert of music by Joseph Martin Kraus. Any performance of his music is well worth hearing, but I am more than sure that these performances will be VERY special. If you find yourself in Warsaw at the time of their concerts, make sure you go along!
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