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Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679 - 1745): "Solo Motets"

Alex Potter, altoa
Capriccio Barockorchester
Dir: Dominik Kiefer

rec: Feb 6 - 9, 2012, Arlesheim, Reformierte Kirche
Pan Classics - PC 10274 ( 2012) (81'10")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Alma redemptoris mater (ZWV 126)a; Barbara, dira effera! (ZWV 164)a; Christe eleison in e minor (ZWV 29)a; Dormi nate, dormi, Deus (ZWV 171)a; Hipocondrie 7 concertanti in A (ZWV 187); I penitenti al sepolcro del Redentore (ZWV 63) (sinfonia); Lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae (ZWV 53) (Lamentatione II pro die veneris sancto)a; Sollicitus fossor (ZWV 209) (attr)a

Karel Valter, Keiko Konoshita, transverse flutes; Dominik Melicharek, Julia Bauer, oboe; Dana Karmon, bassoon; Dominik Kiefer, Vitaliy Shestakov, Lasma Meldere, Christoph Rudolf, Karin von Gierke, Simone Flck, violin; Christoph Riedo, Daila Dambrauska, viola; Bettina Messerschmidt, Ilze Grudele, cello; Bret Simner, violone; Mirko Arnone, theorbo; Yves Bilger, harpsichord, organ

Jan Dismas Zelenka is one of the most interesting composers of the early 18th century. His music is often out of step with what was common in his time, and he was able to put a very personal stamp on all his compositions. That is impressively confirmed on this disc which concentrates on a lesser-known part of his oeuvre: the motet for solo voice.

Among his compositions for solo voice the six Lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae are by far the best-known, and these are available in quite a number of recordings. One of them is included in the programme, scored for alto, oboe, violin and bc. The solo part consists of the Hebrew letters in the form of ariosi, whereas the verses from the Lamentations set as recitatives. Alex Potter treats the latter with the necessary metrical freedom; in the ariosi he sings the melismas beautifully and with the right amount of differentiation.

That is also the case in the Christe eleison which is dominated by long melismatic passages. It dates from the last stage of Zelenka's life when he was working at six masses; only three of them were completed. This setting of the Christe eleison for alto, strings and bc could have been meant as part of one of the masses which were planned but not realised or as alternative to a setting from one of the completed masses.

It was common practice in the baroque era to arrange music for a new purpose. That goes for O magnum mysterium - Dormi nate, dormi Deus: the text "O magnum mysterium" is set in the form of a secco recitative. The aria 'Dormi nate' is an arrangement of 'Reviresce, effloresce' from the oratorio Sub olea pacis. In its new form it is a motetto pro Nativitate and was probably performed on the first day of Christmas in 1725 in the Roman Catholic court church in Dresden. The scoring for strings, transverse flutes - alternating with recorders which are omitted here - and bassoon as well as the bass drones lend this piece its pastoral character.

Alma redemptoris mater is one of the Marian antiphons; the autograph is dated 30 December 1730 and it was probably performed the next day. Here again the transverse flutes play a prominent role in the first section, with muted strings and a bass part which according to Zelenka's instructions should be played pianissimo throughout. This first section, marked larghetto, is followed by a vivid section with the indication forte; the violins play without mutes and the flutes don't participate. The piece ends with an adagio section for strings and bc. This piece is performed with great sensitivity by Alex Potter and the members of the Capriccio Barockorchester.

Zelenka is often considered a rather conservative composer, in particular because of his preference for counterpoint. However, this disc includes two pieces which demonstrate that he was fully in rapport with his time. The disc opens with Barbara, dira effera!, a Motetto pro Resurrectionis Domini. It begins with a long aria, lasting more than 12 minutes, with an obbligato part for bassoon. It has the form of an operatic rage aria, marked allegro assai, e sempre fiero, in which the Jews are castigated for their treatment of Jesus. It is written in dacapo form, but the first part itself comprises of two sections. In the second the word "horrida" (savage) is singled out: the tempo slows down and it is followed by a pause. I have heard Alex Potter several times before and associate him more with religious music than with opera, but here he shows that he is certainly able to sing a dramatic part. He shows some restraint here, though. Whether that is deliberate or because of technical limitations is impossible to judge as I haven't heard him in an opera as yet. In another recent recording - to be reviewed later - Kai Wessel takes a more dramatic approach. However, Potter definitely gives a very good account of this aria. It is followed by a recitative which turns without interruption in the concluding 'Alleluja'.

The programme ends with a single aria, Sollicitus fossor, whose authenticity is not established. However, as Janice Stockigt rightly states in her liner-notes, it is hard to imagine another composer than Zelenka. Among the reasons are the obbligato parts for bassoon and cello, the many twists and turns which are so characteristic of Zelenka's oeuvre and the daring use of harmony. It is another pretty long aria, but here its length is largely due to the extended instrumental episodes. The motet could have been written for the feast of the Finding of the Cross.

The programme is extended by two instrumental compositions. The Hipocondrie 7 concertanti in A is one of Zelenka's best-known orchestral works, which has the form of a French overture, scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc. It is assumed it was intended as the opening movement of an orchestral suite of the kind which were frequently written in Germany by the likes of Telemann and Fasch. The strong contrasts between the three sections is perfectly exposed by Capriccio Barockorchester. The Sinfonia in c minor is the introduction to his Passion oratorio I Penitenti al Sepolcro del Redentore. It is vintage Zelenka, judging by the cross rhythms between the upper voices in the opening adagio and the imaginative and expressive use of harmony. It receives again an exciting performance by the orchestra.

The label 'exciting' fits this whole disc. It impressively underlines Zelenka's stature as one of the most original composers of the baroque era. Alex Potter and the Capriccio Barockorchester fully explore the peculiarities of his idiom and the expression which characterises his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

Alex Potter
Capriccio Basel


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