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Willem de FESCH (1687-1761)
Concerto Grosso in D major, Op. 10 No. 4 (publ. 1741) [12:52]
Concerto Grosso in C major, Op. 3 No. 1 (publ 1718) [7:54]
Concerto Grosso in E minor, Op. 3 No. 5 [6:59]
Concerto Grosso in C minor, Op. 5 No. 5 (publ. 1725) [9:25]
Concerto Grosso in A minor [6:45]
Concerto Grosso in C major, Op. 10 No. 3 [8:34]
Concerto Grosso in F major, Op. 10 No. 5 [7:35]
Lidewij van der Voort (violin)
La Sfera Armoniosa/Mike Fentross
Rec. 17 November 2019, Theater de Vest, Alkmaar, the Netherlands. CHALLENGE RECORDS CC72829 [60:09]
Willem de Fesch was born in Alkmaar, working in Amsterdam as a violinist in 1708, and becoming Kapellmeister of Our Lady’s Cathedral in Antwerp in 1725. After a controversial resignation he ended up in London in 1731 at the time Handel was competing in a culture that was thirsty for opera. De Fesch became popular with his summer concerts in Marylebone gardens in the late 1740s, dying in 1761 not long after having been thrown from a horse.
De Fesch was clearly a virtuoso violinist, and it seems he absorbed the influence of Vivaldi and Locatelli in Amsterdam, which at the time was a centre of music publishing. There are certainly plenty of hints at the Italian style, with elegantly expressive slow movements and lively dance-orientated outer movements that also at times give a stately impression, communicating good taste as well as entertainingly brilliant solo writing.
Hunting around online for alternatives and it turns out that there are few enough recordings of any of Willem de Fesch’s music around. You might find some chamber works and a couple of his oratorios have been recorded, but this release stands proud and alone at the top of a heap of one when it comes to concerto grosso collections. This recording has been made in Theater de Vest in the composer’s home town of Alkmaar, and while this is a modern building it has the kind of intimate acoustic that lends itself nicely to relatively small scale ensembles and this sort of repertoire.
With no church acoustic to smooth things over there are one or two mildly scratchy moments in these performances, but if you are a fan of this period and are looking for something other than Vivaldi then this will be of interest. La Sfera Armoniosa is a twelve-piece band for this recording, with continuo harpsichord, theorbo, baroque guitar or organ discreetly balanced to add rhythmic sparkle and colour. Violinist Lidewij van der Voort has worked as concertmaster with several leading baroque orchestras, and artistic director, conductor and basso continuo player Mike Fentross is well-known and highly respected throughout the international early music scene. All of these musicians certainly know what they are doing.
If I have any criticism of this release it is the lack of access points per movement for these concertos, each work found on a single track. The booklet is also mostly taken up with biographical information on all of the musicians, and a bit of space for comment on the actual music might have been nice. This recording does however fill a gap in the baroque catalogue, and I have enjoyed it very much indeed.