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Johann Sebastian BACH, Jan Dismas ZELENKA: "Lamentationes"

Damien Guillon, altoa; Marcus Ullmann, tenorb; Lieven Termont, baritonec
Il Gardellino
Dir: Marcel Ponseele

rec: Nov 24 - 27, 2010, Antwerp, AMUZ
Passacaille - 977 (© 2012) (62'02")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben (BWV 102)abcd; Schauet doch und sehet, ob irgendein Schmerz sei (BWV 46)abcd; Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745): Lamentationes Jeremiae prophetae pro hebdomada sancta (ZWV 53) (Lamentatione I pro die mercuri sanctoc; Lamentatione II pro die veneris sanctoa)

[ripienid] Annelies Brants, Inge Zutterman, soprano; Joris Verschueren, alto; Cécile Pilorger, contralto; Reinoud Van Mechelen, Marcus Ullmann, tenor; Bart Vandewege, Lieven Termont, bass
[Il Gardellino] Ruth Vankillegem, Patrick Denecker, recorder; Jan De Winne, transverse flute; Marcel Ponseele, Ann Vanlancker, oboe; Alain De Rijckere, bassoon; Julien Chauvin, Annelies Decock, violin; Mika Akiha, viola; Emmanuel Balssa, cello; Korneel Lecompte, double bass; Guy Penson, harpsichord, organ

It makes sense to bring together music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Jan Dismas Zelenka on one disc. They knew each other, Bach admired Zelenka, and both had a strong preference for counterpoint. They also shared the fate of being considered rather conservative.

The Lamentationes Jeremiae belong to the best-known compositions by Zelenka. They comprise six settings of lessons which are part of the Offices of Tenebrae, scored for alto, tenor and bass respectively, with instruments and bc. As was common practice the Hebrew letters which introduce the various verses are set in the form of vocalises. The two settings recorded here are quite different. The Lamentatione I pro die mercuri sancto consists of recitatives and ariosos and has a more fluent character than the Lamentatione II pro die veneris sancto which is entirely made up of recitatives. Both show a close connection between text and music; not only the vocal part, but also the instrumental parts are used to depict the text. That is perfectly conveyed here, through differentiation in tempo and dynamics and with a marked emphasis of the dissonants.

The two cantatas by Bach are not written for Passiontide, but rather for the 10th Sunday after Trinity. However, it makes much sense to combine them with these lamentations by Zelenka because of the Gospel reading of that Sunday: Luke 19, vs 41-48, where it is told that Jesus prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and drives the traders out of the temple. This episode took place just before Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, and only a couple of days before his arrest and death. Schauet doch und sehet (BWV 46) begins with a dictum on the text which is also taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (ch 1, vs 12): "Behold and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been inflicted on me. For the Lord has made me full of misery on the day of his fierce anger". This text is well-known in Latin with the text Vulnerasti cor meum which has been set to music by many composers of the renaissance and baroque periods. This is a highly expressive chorus, structured as a prelude and fugue, with strong dissonants and musical figures depicting the text. In the recitative the sins of Jerusalem are pointed out as the cause of its fate. The bass aria 'Dein Wetter zog sich auf von weiten' is about God's judgement, expressing itself in storm and lightning. God's power is represented by the obbligato trumpet. The next recitative then warns that all mankind may meet this fate: "Since you do not repent, but daily increase your sins, you may all likewise have horribly to perish". However, the alto aria, with recorders and two oboi da caccia replacing the basso continuo, brings the good news of Jesus saving the devout: "While storms of vergeance reward sinners, he helps the devout to dwell in safety". The concluding chorale refers to Jesus' Passion in its plea for mercy.

Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben (BWV 102) dwells on the same subject, without turning to a display of God's mercy. It is in two parts; the first begins and ends with a dictum. The opening chorus, again in the form of a prelude and fugue, is on a text from the prophecy of Jeremiah, who also is the author of the Lamentations: "Lord, your eyes look for faith! You strike them, but they don't feel it; you torment them, but they do not better themselves. They have a harder countenance than a rock and will not convert" (ch 5, vs 3). In the first part the effects of a persistence to sin are depicted, in the second part man is urged to convert. In this cantata the most expressive aria is 'Weh der Seele' for alto, with an evocative obbligato part for the oboe: "Woe to the soul that no longer recognizes its lostness". The which ends the first part has the form of an arioso for bass, on the text of Romans 2, vs 4-5. The purpose of this cantata is once again expressed in the closing chorale which comprises two stanzas: "Today you live; today convert".

The opening choruses are masterpieces of musical expression and are impressively realised. The tutti are performed with two voices per part; the tenor and bass soloists take part in the tutti, the alto - for reasons I can't understand - does not. The attention to the text is very detailed, for instance on "du schlägest sie" (you strike them; BWV 102,1). Lieven Termont has one of the most dramatic arias to sing, and his strong voice is well suited to the character of this aria. Damien Guillon is equally effective in his recitatives and arias. Marcus Ullman sings well; the recitative 'So klage, du zustörte Gottesstadt' (BWV 46,2) could have been a little more speech-like and rhetorical.

Unfortunately there are some deviations from the original text, such as "verstörte" - instead of "zustörte" - in the first recitative of Cantata 46. In the first stanza of the chorale which closes Cantata 102 the verb "kömmt" is sung as "kommt". It seems there also has gone something wrong during the production process: according to the track-list Zelenka's Lamentatione II pro die veneris sancto should be track 15, but in fact it is track 8 and follows immediately the other Lamentation.

All compositions on the programme are masterpieces, and receive masterful performances. Every reason to strongly recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Damien Guillon
Marcus Ullmann
Il Gardellino

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