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The Consort

Gerald Gifford

Summer 2012

Carl Christian Friedrich Fasch: Six Sonatas
ed Christopher Hogwood
Edition HH @BACH, HH300.SOL,
Bicester, 2011 (ringbound, £30)
ISMN 979 0 708092 49 0

This is the first volume of a projected series of three providing the complete known keyboard works of Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736-1800); the remaining volumes respectively covering sonatas and character pieces (HH301.SOL) and variations and miscellaneous pieces (HH302.SOL). The composer was son of the more well-known Johann Fasch; he achieved importance in the musical life of the court of Frederick the Great, and is known to have excelled as a performer of the keyboard music of J S and – especially – C P E Bach. The styling of Fasch’s own keyboard writing, as demonstrated here, owes much to the influence of the latter, and the editor accordingly reproduces C P E Bach’s familiar table of ornaments from the Versuch, noting that it requires only small modification. The same treatise is also recommended for information about other matters of interpretation, with an appropriate qualification or two added for guidance.

The music is cleanly presented, though with original prints of the clarity and quality of Sonata 1 as shown by the two facsimiles, this new edition clearly had excellent precedent. The critical commentary efficiently deals with most of the individual problems arising in the various sources, and it is straightforward to identify references to the various manuscript and printed texts consulted. Always pleasing and rewarding to play, these works generally fall comfortably enough under the hands, though they nevertheless require a neat and alert technique, and of course a sympathy with the prevailing style. Hogwood appropriately observes that ‘Fasch’s music requires a touch-sensitive keyboard’, and few would wish to disagree, though certain movements do still sound remarkably well on the harpsichord; Sonata V/i for example, and especially the antique French-styled ‘L’Antoine’ (Sonata VI/ii), which arrests the attention when first encountered, especially when one has become accustomed to Fasch’s more contemporary musical language by playing through this collection thus far.

Many important performance practice issues are dealt with in the Introduction, though the vertical alignment of tripletised rhythms might perhaps benefit from further clarification. In his Introduction, the editor states that ‘the alignment of accompanying dotted rhythms with triplets (as in Sonata V/iii) as found in both manuscript and printed sources has been preserved, since it confirms that this manner of performance was expected’. However, the work and movement reference cited appears to be an error, so we can only surmise what is intended here.

If literal adherence to the sources is indeed the objective, then perhaps in some instances the aim has been pressed too far. In Sonata II/i (Allegro) for example, at bar 35 second beat, the triplet figure and its accompanying dotted rhythm is exactly elided vertically, though for the very next beat the same figure has the semiquaver deferred. Was this distinction really meant? Elsewhere, in playing through this new edition there are several times when one might easily fail to appreciate the subtle distinction between elided and un-elided quavers and semiquavers in similar triplet figurations or upbeat figures as this. In similar vein, it would have been interesting to learn whether the profusion of triplets in the first movement of Sonata 1, for example, might have an impact on the precise duration of the LH semiquavers in bars 14, 16, 40 and 42. As desirable as it might be to diligently follow the precise notation, I suspect that many would unconsciously tripletise the semiquavers anyway, after the manner recommended by C P E Bach.

In his Introduction, the editor dutifully reports on a number of non-musical personal interests and endeavours of the composer; these were legion, and paint an intriguing picture of a rather curious man. Acutely self-critical as a composer, he was known to have often destroyed his work, and from his deathbed he apparently instructed one of his pupils to burn the contents of his music cabinet. Thankfully the printed sources and some fortuitously spared manuscripts remain – hence the present series of issues – though we can but wonder what riches must otherwise have been lost.

Fasch clearly relished imitating C P E Bach’s style, and throughout the present series of delightful works one is constantly aware of his facility in doing so. That he drew upon his own personal experience as a performer of Bach’s music is abundantly evident; that as a composer he could approach something of the pliability of Bach’s fertile creative imagination on occasion is another. But whether, on this showing, Fasch was able to command and sustain a similar conceptual grasp of effect, opportunity and dramatic impact is doubtful. There are flashes when inspiration is high – several movements are stunning – though there are other occasions where the invention and expression is tangibly more routine and compliant. As the publisher’s website description succinctly states, he was a minor though eloquent master of the expressive style.

We are grateful to Gerald Gifford and the editor of The Consort for permission to reproduce this review.
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