ZELENKA Six Sonatas, ZWV181
Zelenka’s six long and luxurious trio sonatas for oboes, bassoon and continuo were first brought into modern-day light in the 1970s by the hot line-up of Heinz Holliger, Maurice Bourgue and Klaus Thunemann (Archiv, 10/74), since when there have been period versions of all six from Paul Dombrecht, Marcel Ponseele and Danny Bond (Accent, 3/89) and Ensemble Zefiro’s Alfredo Bernardini and Paolo and Alberto Grazzi (Auvidis, 6/94 and 2/96) – period reed stars all round.
This new recording from the Prague-based Collegium 1704 features Xenia Löffler and Michael Posch, oboists probably best known as members of the Akademie für Alte Musik (for whom Löffler’s solos have so often been a shining light), and with bassoon companion Jane Gower they give flowing performances of pieces that in their extent, intricacy and near-constant blowing must surely test the breath and lips of even the best. Not that you are aware of this too often in these performances, which tumble through the music with a warming sense of relaxed enjoyment. The sound is a soft and deep one with plenty of clarity for the winds, if less for the slightly spongy continuo section consisting of harpsichord, a not greatly audible theorbo and a double bass which – like some old gentleman dancing daintily with his granddaughters – adds an amiable gruffness to the overall picture.
From all the super-Bachian meandering melodic lines, full textures and harmonic side-slips of most of this music, Sonata No 5 stands out for its Vivaldian energy and light; Gower shows impressive rat-a-tat virtuosity here, while the work’s stronger formal clarity draws from the group a more vivid response to structure and shape. Violinist Helen Zemanová ably steps in for one of the oboes in Sonata No 3, bringing the sound a new and altered focus. These, then, are pleasant performances, not in your face, but unhurried and full of expertise.