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Jan ZACH (1713 - 1773): "Al Capriccio - Concertos and Sinfonias"

Barocksolisten München
Dir: Dorothea Seel

rec: March 1 -2, 2016, Zirl, Kultur- und Veranstaltungszentrum
Musikmuseum - CD13035 (© 2018) (66'47")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concerto for harpsichord and orchestra in C (K C26); Concerto for harpsichord and orchestra in F (GS C16); Concerto for transverse flute and orchestra in D (K C23)a; Concerto a 4 for transverse flute, two violins and bc in Ga; La Passione di Gesù Cristo Nostro Signore (GS deest) (introduzione in E); Sinfonia in G (GS C1); Stabat mater (K B19) (overture in g minor)

Dorothea Seel (soloa), Sieglinde Größingertransverse flute; Andreas Helm, Georg Fritz, oboe; Christoph Gapp, Klaus Dengg, horn; Kathrin Lazar, bassoon; Shunske Sato, Elisabeth Wiesbauer, violin; Raquel Massadas, viola; Robin Michael, cello; Christine Sticher, double bass; Anne Marie Dragosits, harpsichord

In 2014 the Barocksolisten München recorded a programme of instrumental works by Jan Zach. It was followed in 2016 by a second disc, which was released this year on the same label. When I reviewed the first disc, I had only heard a small vocal piece by Zach, which did not make me think that he was a composer who urgently needed to be paid much attention to. I changed by mind, when I heard his instrumental music, and the present disc confirms my impression that Zach was an original mind, who fully deserves the attention of the Barocksolisten München and of music lovers at large.

Zach was born the son of a farmer and innkeeper in Dehtarý 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.

The first disc included three technically demanding flute concertos. The second disc brings two further concertos for the transverse flute, but these are more modest in proportion, and written in a galant idiom. They have a light touch, and Dorothee Seel's performance does full justice to that. They differ in their scoring: the Concerto in G is a kind of concerto da camera, in which the flute is accompanied by two violins and basso continuo. The Concerto in D is a typical solo concerto, in which the strings are joined by two horns.

The most remarkable pieces on the programme are the two harpsichord concertos. One of the features of Zach's instrumental writing is his treatment of harmony. In the Concerto in C the harpsichord is accompanied by an orchestra of strings and two horns. It is in three movements, in an unusual order of keys: C major, a minor and B flat major. The opening movement is the most unusual, as it is full of chromaticism. The last movement has a rather surprising end. But the slow movement of the Concerto in F, in which the orchestra is enlarged with two oboes, is by far the most bizarre piece of this disc. The character indications are telling: recitativo (poco lento) - arioso (lento) - tempo (si suona al Capriccio) - recitativo - lento - allegro - presto - adagio - arioso - poco lento. Zach treats this movement as a kind of opera scene, in which the harpsichord takes the role of one of the characters, who is constantly torn between conflicting emotions. As the word capriccio suggests, it has to be treated with utmost freedom, and that is exactly how Anne Marie Dragosits plays the solo part. Here we see that Zach lived in the era of the Sturm und Drang, and the similarities with the works of, for instance, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, are unmistakable.

The disc ends with the Sinfonia in G, which has the traits of an early classical symphony. The scoring already points in that direction: two flutes, two horns and strings. With its four movements is has the form which was to become the standard in the classical era. The third movement is a menuet and trio; the latter is dominated by the flutes.

But there is another side to Zach. In their sacred music composers of the mid-18th century are often more conservative than in their instrumental works, and often counterpoint takes an important place in that part of their oeuvre. That seems not any different in the case of Zach. I already mentioned a sacred piece I heard some time ago, and which attests to that. The present disc includes two instrumental introductions to sacred works which seem to deliver further proof. Both consist of two sections: a slow episode is followed by a fugue. They remind me of separate pieces of this kind by Johann Adolf Hasse and by Mozart. Both pieces attest to Zach's mastery of counterpoint. Whereas the Stabat mater has been preserved (which I would love to hear), La Passione di Gesù Cristo Nostro Signore on the well-known libretto by Pietro Metastasio has been lost. A couple of years ago some fragments from the first part were discovered in a copy, preserved in the library of the Cologne conservatoire. Let's hope some day this work will turn up somewhere.

As I already indicated, this disc confirms my impression, based on the previous disc, that Zach is an interesting and original composer. I was happy with the first disc, and so am I with the present recording. Dorothea Seel and her colleagues deliver energetic performances, and there is no lack of expression either. They are obviously enthusiastic about their discovery of Zach's instrumental music, and that is easy to understand. If you have the first disc, don't hesitate to add this new one to your collection. If you have never heard any of Zach's music, investigate one of them, and I am pretty sure that you want to have the other one as well.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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