Zelenka Music from 18th Century Prague
These three 20-minute cantatas, dating from 1709, 1712 and 1716 respectively, receive their world premiere commercial recordings with this release. Yet while they are among Zelenka’s earliest surviving works (and have required some partial but uncontentious reconstruction to bring them to the studio), they are certainly the work of a fully competent composer in his early thirties, and one whose distinctive artistic personality is already apparent. For here, in music designed to accompany contemplation of the Holy Sepulchre on Good Friday at Prague’s principal Jesuit College, the Klementinum, is unmistakably the Zelenka of plangently expressive harmonies, melancholy sensibility, graceful counterpoint and pliant, free-roaming melody. Though the more consistent balance of later works is yet to be achieved, his many admirers will surely be delighted at the opportunity to acquaint themselves with this younger but clearly recognisable and lovable version of their hero.
Collegium Marianum introduce us to him in performances that are skilful, stylish and attractive to the ear. The air is tender rather than forcefully dramatic, and some listeners may prefer a more vivid response to, say, the staccato string chords which accompany the ‘dropping tears of blood’ in Immisit Dominus pestilentiam or the militaristic bass aria which announces ‘God, the mightiest commander’ in Deus dux. Others, however, may well feel that the fond intimacy evoked by the small orchestra and choir and by the clear-voiced, sensitive solo singers is spot on. It is certainly good that the choruses do not swamp the arias while still being allowed their finely wrought but gentle grandeur. Jana Semerádová unobtrusively keeps things on course, yet shows off her own musicianship in a soft-breathed flute obbligato to Hana BlaΩíková’s exquisitely sung ‘Orate pro me’ in Immisit. A beautiful, warming Baroque discovery.