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CD reviews

Jan ZACH (1713 - 1773): "Concerti"

Barocksolisten München
Dir: Dorothea Seel

rec: [n.d., n.p.]
Musikmuseum - CD13017 (© 2014) (78'06")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concerto for cello and orchestra in E flat (GS C18)ce; Concerto for keyboard and strings in c minor (GS C17)d; Concerto for keyboard and strings in a minor (K & GS deest)d; Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in B flat (GS C22)b; Concerto for transverse flute and orchestra in D (GS C21)ae; Concerto for transverse flute and orchestra in D (K C24)ae; Concerto for transverse flute and orchestra in G (K C19)af

Dorothea Seel, transverse flutea; Andreas Helm, oboeb; Christoph Gapp, Klaus Dengg, horne; Peter Rabi, Christian Köll, basset hornf; Shunske Sato, Fani Vovoni, violin; Raquel Massadas, viola; Robin Michael, cello (soloc); Christine Sticher, violone; Anne Marie Dragosits, harpsichord (solod)

During the 18th century, and in particular its second half, many performing musicians and composers from Bohemia travelled across Europe to look for employment or performed as virtuosos on their instrument in public concerts, such as those of the Concert Spirituel in Paris and the Bach-Abel concerts in London. One of these Bohemians was Jan Zach, who is a rather unknown quantity and whose name very seldom appears on concert programmes or on disc.

Zach was born the son of a farmer and innkeeper in Dehtarı in the Elbe valley in north-eastern Bohemia. He was educated as an organist and violinist. During the 1730s he worked as organist in several churches in Prague. When in the 1740s the troops of Charles Albert of the House of Wittelsbach (from 1742 emperor Charles VII) invaded Prague, many musicians left the city, including Zach. In 1745 he was appointed at the court of the Elector of Mainz, who allowed him to travel to Italy to broaden his horizon. However, by all accounts Zach was a rather difficult character, and as a result he often became involved in conflicts. In 1756 he left his position in Mainz, and the remaining years of his life he spent travelling across the southern part of Germany and Austria; he also went once again to Italy. During his final years he stayed in the Cistercian monastery at Stams in Tyrol. Here a large number of his compositions were copied and this has resulted in the Stams archive's being the largest single source of Zach's works.

In the oeuvre of many composers from the time between the baroque era and the classical period we find a mixture of tradition and modernity. Zach's oeuvre comprises sacred music and instrumental works, and it seems that in the former category he tends to be rather conservative, whereas the instrumental works point in the direction of the classical style. That is certainly the case in the concertos which are the subject of the present disc.

The concertos follow the Vivaldian sequence of three movements in the order fast - slow - fast, but otherwise they have little in common with the baroque solo concerto. The solo instruments have a more prominent position, and the solo parts are often very virtuosic. That is the case, for instance, with the Concerto for oboe in B flat, which takes almost 15 minutes; all three movements include a cadenza. The solo part is clearly written for a skilled professional player.

The concertos for transverse flute take a special place in Zach's oeuvre. They have been preserved in the music library of the Princes of Thurn and Taxis in Regensburg, and are both technically demanding and stylistically "progressive", as Franz Gratl calls them in his liner-notes. In the Concerto in D the solo part explores the highest notes of the flute of those days. The Concerto in G is a special case as the tutti include two parts for the basset horn. "At that time basset horns in G were extremely 'primitive' instruments with a restricted range, which could easily take the place of natural horns, introducing a sentimental-sounding timbre all of their own. Zach favoured this combination of sounds (...). Although the basset horn parts in the Regensburg score of the Flute Concerto are designated 'Corni' (...), the designation 'Clarinetti' on the title page and, in particular, the details of the registers to be used (...) are unambiguous proof that basset horns are intended here". It gives the orchestral parts a specific flavour.

In these concertos we find several features of the Sturm und Drang, such as melodic twists and turns and sudden dynamic outbursts. The latter manifest themselves, for instance, in the Concerto in a minor for keyboard and strings, especially in the opening movement, called spiritoso. Here the strings make regular use of tremoli. The solo part bears the traces of the galant idiom, and here as well as in other concertos we hear drum basses and Alberti basses, two very popular devices in music from this period. Also notable is the fact that in some movements the solo instrument opens the proceedings, and is only later joined by the tutti.

Very different is the Concerto in E flat for cello, strings and two horns. It is not comparable with the other concertos: the designation of the three movements is different: lento, allegro, moderato. The piece opens with cello and basso continuo; the tutti enter later. It sounds more like a divertimento than a full-blood solo concerto, also because it is much shorter than all the other works.

I had never heard any instrumental music by Zach before, only some music for Holy Week, which I liked, but which did not particularly impress me. That is quite different here. These concertos are of fine quality, and deserve to be much better known and more often performed. They have made me very curious about other parts of Zach's oeuvre. The Barocksolisten München are eloquent advocates of his music. The ensemble is outstanding, and the solo parts are performed with impressive technical ease. Especially Dorothee Seel is brilliant in her performance of the solo part of the Concerto in D. The oboe and the harpsichord are also first class.

I strongly recommend this disc, which will give you much pleasure.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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