musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679 - 1745): "Italian Arias, ZWV 176"

Hana Blaziková, sopranoa; Merkéta Cukrová, mezzo-sopranob; Tomás Selcc, bass
Ensemble Tourbillon
Dir: Petr Wagner

rec: Feb 13 - 15, 2015, Prague, Tyrsuv dum
Accent - ACC 24306 (© 2016) (69'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Evoi si ete d'altri o labra (ZWV 176,3)b; Non si trova, ne si da (ZWV 176,4)a; Non so se piu (ZWV 176,6)b; Povera fede sei pur mal spesa (ZWV 176,2)a; Se ha per guida la constanza (ZWV 176,5)a; Senti ti voglio ancor (ZWV 176,7)a; Si pen si cangiar quel core (ZWV 176,1)a; Son da piu venti (ZWV 176,8)c

Lenka Torgersen, Lubica Habart, violin; Andreas Torgersen, viola; Peter Wagner, viola da gamba; Premysl Vacek, archlute; Filip Dvorák, harpsichord

In the first half of the 18th century Dresden, until 1763 under the rule of Elector Frederick August I and his successor Frederick August II, was one of the main musical centres of Germany. This was largely due to the quality of the court chapel, which was a truly international ensemble, with players from across Europe in its ranks. From 1709 to 1728 it was directed by Jean-Baptiste Volumier, who was then succeeded by Johann Georg Pisendel. As Frederick August II was especially fond of Italian music, he actively sought Italian musicians to join the chapel. When he was in Venice, he also met a German, Johann David Heinichen, who was active as a composer of cantatas and operas. He was engaged as Kapellmeister and held this position until his death in 1729.

However, Heinichen suffered from poor health and his duties were often taken over by Jan Dismas Zelenka, who played the double bass in the chapel. He continued to so so, when Heinichen died. He certainly was hoping to be officially appointed as his successor, but that did not happen. In 1733 the post of Kapellmeister was given to Johann Adolf Hasse. He was one of the most celebrated opera composers of Europe, and as opera played a major role at the court, that probably was the main reason that he was preferred to Zelenka, who had never composed any music for the stage.

However, the title of the collection of eight arias, which is the subject of the present disc and which Zelenka put together in 1733, seems to suggest otherwise. It says that these arias are taken from various operas (Alcune Arie, Cavate dalle diverse Opere). This can only refer to opera librettos rather than operas from Zelenka's own pen. He dedicated the arias to the Elector, probably in a last attempt to recommend himself as a candidate for the position of vice-Kapellmeister under Hasse. Only in one case the source of an aria text has been found: Son da piů venti is taken from the libretto Ormisda by Apostolo Zeno, one of the main librettists of the time. It is assumed that the other texts may have been taken from older librettos, which were not used anymore, or from chamber cantatas. This could well reveal one of the factors which prevented Zelenka from rising to the highest positions. He was rather old-fashioned for his time; there can be little doubt, that he - just like Johann Sebastian Bach - preferred counterpoint over modern fashions. In music for the church that was far less of a problem than in secular music, such as cantatas and opera. It is notable, that the arias are probably not even intended for the stage: the scoring is confined to strings and basso continuo, which offers only limited possibilities to give the instrumental part a truly dramatic role.

That said, the string parts are certainly explored in the interest of expression, and despite the similarities in scoring, there is quite some variety in character between the arias. They are all about love, and mostly the trials and tribulations of it. Some are of a lamenting nature, such as E voi siete d'altri: "And you, oh sweet lips, are those of another, for I have taken pleasure in another. Wounded at the heart by the bees of love I have gathered this honeycomb." But there are also a couple of pieces, which are close to rage arias as they were often included in operas. That is especially the case with Non si trova, nč si dŕ: "Neither does one find, nor is there a more treacherous or cruel man as you. You are more merciless than a snake, more soulless than a boulder; may compassion be cursed. And your fidelity is but deception." An expression of happiness is the aria Se ha per guida la costanza: "If she hath fidelity for a guide, then hope is happy, and Amor is content. The pleasure that is the most important pursuit of emotion is that of fidelity."

Bernhard Blattmann, in his liner-notes, concludes: "Zelenka could have made things easier for himself and utilised the economic material of the modern Neapolitan style instead of remaining loyal to his complex, highly expressive and at times even eccentric but also intensely characteristic personal musical language." He then rightly continues to say that it is a luck that he did not. These arias may not have helped him to achieve what he was looking for, but we can enjoy eight fine arias, which attest to Zelenka's skills in writing for the voice. The performances are generally outstanding. One probably is inclined to associate Hana Blaziková with sacred music, but she makes a very good impression here. Some find her voice a bit too penetrating, and there may be some truth in that, but that is appropriate in the two 'rage arias'. In other arias she produces a sweeter tone and quite some lyricism. Markéta Cukrová does well too; she has a nice voice and delivers appropriate interpretations of her two arias. Only now and then I noted a bit too much vibrato, but that is hardly disturbing. Tomás Selc has only one aria to sing. There is nothing wrong with his vocal qualities, but the interpretation is a bit bland. The Ensemble Tourbillon makes the most of the instrumental parts of these arias.

This disc is a substantial addition to the Zelenka discography and will give the many Zelenka fans much to enjoy.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Hana Blaziková
Markéta Cukrová
Tomás Selc
Ensemble Tourbillon

CD Reviews