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Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679 - 1745): "Missa 1724"

Lucia Caihuela, Jeanne Mendoche, Aldona Bartnik, soprano; Kamila Mazalová, Aneta Petrasová, contralto; Václav Cízek, Benjamin Glaubitz, tenor; Tomás Selc, bass
Collegium Vocale 1704; Collegium 1704
Dir: Václav Luks

rec: August 2018, Staré Mesto (CZ), Prague Crossroads
Accent - ACC 24363 (© 2020) (54'28")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/CZ; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/CZ
Cover, track-list & booklet

'Missa 1724' (Kyrie, Sanctus & Agnus Dei in d minor (ZWV 26); Gloria in F (ZWV 30); Credo in F (ZWV 32); Benedictus (ZWV deest)); Salve Regina in a minor (ZWV 137)

Philippe Herreweghe once said that he did not want to waste his time on the music of Jan Dismas Zelenka. I completely fail to understand his views on this composer, who is one of my favourites and whom I consider one of the greatest composers of his time. All his music I have heard, is at least very good, but more often simply brilliant and exciting. That certainly goes for his masses; in particular the mass settings from the last stage of his life have received much attention and are available in quite a number of recordings. The present disc offers a mass that seems to have been overlooked to date. That is to say: what we have here is not a Mass Ordinary as written by Zelenka, but rather a collection of Mass sections which Václav Luks put together to an Ordinary.

The title page mentions the year 1724. That was an important year in Zelenka's life, as in February of that year his father died, which seems to have deeply affected him. "After his father's funeral on 3 March of that year, he composed the deeply moving psalm setting De profundis, ZWV 50, which was performed together with the now lost Requiem, ZWV 247. The jubilant sound of trumpets from the coronation celebration of the previous year is now replaced by the dark harmonies of trombones. Zelenka's De profundis is representative of his musical language from 1724 and 1725 - dramatic music full of sorrow and passion." In 1724 and 1725 Zelenka composed two masses: a missa brevis for modest forces and a mass which has been lost. However, several Mass sections from the years 1723/24 have been preserved, and that brings us to the recording under review here.

Three sections belong together: Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, probably written at the turn from 1723 to 1724. One of their features is that they are partly reworkings of previously written pieces. The Christe eleison is a reworking of the music from the opening section of the Miserere (ZWV 56), whereas for the Kyrie II and the Agnus Dei, Zelenka turned to the responsory Ecce vidimus eum (ZWV 53). The information about the Gloria in Luks's liner-notes could have been a bit more lucid. The setting performed here is dated 2 February 1724, but much of its music is found in the Missa Judica me (ZWV 2), probably dating from 1714, of which only the Credo and the Gloria have come down to us. "It was a revised version of the Gloria from the early 1720s that became the basis for the separately composed Gloria, ZWV 30 (1724)." If I understand this correctly, there is a Gloria between the 1714 version and that of 1724, but that is not specifically mentioned. One major difference between ZWV 30 and ZWV 2 is the use of trombones in the later version, which were not required in the early version. Adding to the confusion is that Luks states that "[the] Gloria, ZWV 30, is not merely a parody of an older original. Instead, it is a unique work in its own right, with an entirely different structure from the Gloria in the Missa Judica me." It probably depends on how one defines a parody. He mentions that the Laudamus te is scored for tenor in ZWV 30 and for soprano in ZWV 2. It seems to me that such a change is part of a parody. He points out that the division of the text into solo and tutti sections is rather different between the two versions, but again, that does not compromise the parody concept, as long as the music is largely the same. (I don't touch here the question, whether the term 'parody' is the most appropriate one, considering that it is mostly associated with the renaissance practice of composing parody masses, which is different from the practice in Zelenka's mass movements.)

The Credo is for double choir and also dates from around 1724. The Sanctus ZWV 26 comes without a Benedictus. The version included here is part of the Missa a 5 by the Italian composer Giovanni Pisani which Zelenka arranged, probably in the early 1730s. As the Benedictus was missing, Zelenka wrote a setting himself, and that is the one performed here.

This 'Missa 1724' may not be a Mass Ordinary as the composer may have had in mind, these Mass sections are vintage Zelenka. His individual treatment of harmony manifests itself in many places. Examples are Christe eleison, 'Et incarnatus est' and 'Crucifixus' in the Credo as well as the 'Amen' section that closes this section. I already mentioned the 'Laudamus te' solo in the Gloria; it is a virtuosic aria with many coloraturas. Václav Cízek delivers an outstanding performance. His level of singing is indicative of what is on offer here. The performances overall are really excellent. The soloists, except the tenor, have only small parts to sing, but they do so very well. Choir and orchestra are in top form here. They display their qualities also in the Salve Regina, which closes the disc. This is another parody, as it is based on the Canzon 4. toni from Girolamo Frescobaldi's Fiori musicali. Zelenka was very much interested in older music, and paid tribute to that repertoire in his own compositions. That is also what brought him the criticism of his contemporaries.

With this outstanding recording of some lesser-known works, Václav Luks and his singers and players have done Zelenka full justice. This is a disc to treasure.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Collegium Vocale 1704 & Collegium 1704

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