Thomas Hengelbrock conducts Bach, Lotti and Zelenka
This trilogy is based loosely on the Dresden connections between the Venetian Antonio Lotti, Bohemian Jan Dismas Zelenka and Thuringian Johann Sebastian Bach. Zelenka’s unconventional Miserere in C minor (Easter 1738) is a peculiar mixture of archaic music based on a ricercar by Frescobaldi and modern proto-classical movements. Hengelbrock leaps without reticence into the agitated music that opens and dramatically concludes the work (in comparison, Fiori Musicali’s performance seems coolly refined – Metronome, 3/08). The Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and Choir perform with full-blooded tension; Hengelbrock makes the fullest possible use of the plangent oboes and pulsating string chords but also ensures that the music-making never loses its focused precision. The abrupt conclusion leads cleverly into the sinfonia of Bach’s Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen. The famous chaconne chorus that conveys weeping is tenderly phrased; solo voices are used for the first entries only and are soon joined by the full complement of 18 singers. This is by no means unpleasant but the sudden change of gears from streamlined intimacy to a larger choral texture feels odd (curiously, Hengelbrock eschews the policy in an entirely “choral” recapitulation).
The crowning glory is Lotti’s Missa a tre cori. As Hengelbrock has proved before with his outstanding recordings of Lotti’s Requiem (9/99) and Missa Sapientiae (3/04), the Venetian master’s chiaroscuro writing is certainly not run-of-the-mill. The contrapuntal first phrases of the “Kyrie” possess extraordinary expressive quality and accomplishment, whereas the first section of the “Gloria” is an irresistible, dance-like celebration with jaunty rhythms and bold trumpet. Lotti’s controlled and sublime setting of “Et in terra pax” reveals the harmonically adventurous talent and flair for unexpected effects that evidently fascinated Bach and Handel, and some surprising choral harmonies in the ardent “Qui tollis” lifted me from my chair in astonishment and admiration for both the composer and his modern-day interpreters. This is nothing short of revelatory.