Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer's series of suites, Les Journal du Printemps, Op. 1, comes from the very early days of Western orchestral music, appearing in print by 1695 and probably not predating that year by much. Notated in six parts, the printed edition provides only scant clues as to its realization, and a surviving manuscript copy none at all. In this performance, L'Orfeo Barockorchester under conductor Michi Gaigg, employs an orchestra of 10 violins, 4 violas, bass, and viola da gamba in addition to a couple of woodwinds and some percussion; it is a full, rich sound. Although Fischer's set contains eight suites, L'Orfeo Barockorchester only includes seven as that is what will fit on a CD. Although referred to as "Simfonies" in the manuscript, these are Baroque orchestral suites, like those of Telemann or Bach, but the style is entirely French, reflecting the influence of Lully and bearing a vague similarity to Handel, whose work in this vein came later.
The vagaries of the score material obviously are what have prevented this great music from being offered to the public in the past, but Le Journal du Printemps is really worth the wait. This could be the "Baroque hit" you've never heard, as these highly approachable pieces have many of the same qualities that make the orchestral output of Bach and Handel so appealing: memorable themes, graciousness, rhythmic brio, and a grand sense of occasion that practically screams "B-A-R-O-Q-U-E!" Yet L'Orfeo Barockorchester shows restraint and care; there is no evidence of the wheezy violins that some complain about in period groups. Gaigg's is a solid, traditionally conceived interpretation of a body of work that might have been nearly as popular as Vivaldi's The Four Seasons had anyone known about it. The movements marked Passacaille, Sarabande, and Chaconne are particularly rich, strong, and flavorful like a good cup of coffee, and even though this music has never been recorded before, it feels as comfortable as one's bedroom slippers. Most of CPO's projects help cast light on neglected repertoire that tends to add spice to the enormous palate of available offerings, but seldom do they stumble onto an item that can be considered "main course." These suites of Fischer definitely fit the bill, and CPO's Les Journal du Printemps, Op. 1, is urgently recommended to any listener who values Baroque orchestral music; anyone who loves Handel's "Water Music" Suites will be in for a treat here.