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Jan Josef Ignác BRENTNER (1689 - 1742): "Concertos & Arias"

Hana Blazikova, sopranoa
Collegium Marianum
Dir: Jana Semerádová

rec: June 2003, Sept 2005 & May 2009, Prague, Church of Our Lady Queen of Angels
Supraphon - SU 3970-2 (© 2009) (60'42")

Jan Josef Ignác BRENTNER: Aria II in c minor 'Ubi Jesu'a; Aria V in G 'Cor meum tibi dedo'a; Aria XII 'O Deus, ego amo Te'a; Concerto I in g minor; Concerto II in d minor; Concerto III in B flat; Concerto IV in G; Concerto V in F; Concerto VI in c minor; Simon BRIXI (1693-1735): Graduale Pro Dominica Quinquagesimae proprium in a minor 'Tu es Deus'a

Not many Czech composers of the early 18th century are known today, but Jan Josef Ignác Brentner is probably the best-known. That is mainly the result of the fact that a part of his output has been preserved in Bolivia, thanks to the Jesuits bringing along some of his compositions. And since the music from the archives of Latin America is enjoying a growing interest of early music ensembles his name appears now and then in programmes with Latin American music.

About Brentner himself not that much is known. He lived and died in Dobrany in the Plzen region, but worked in Prague around 1730. Little is known with any certainty about his musical activities or the positions he held. But four collections with his music were printed in Prague, and there is firm evidence that his music was held in high esteem as it was widely disseminated right after its publication. The fact that Jesuit missionaries had his music in their baggage when they travelled to South America is further evidence of the popularity of Brentner's music.

This disc presents the complete Opus 4 which consists of six 'Concerti'. The term has to be put between quotation marks because of their varied textures and the differentiation in the treatment of the instrumental parts. The original title contains the word cammerales which indicates that these concertos are not orchestral works, but rather chamber music. Therefore they are rightly played with one instrument per part on this disc.

The concertos are scored for four instruments and basso continuo. The first treble part is given to either violin, transverse flute or oboe. In this recording only the violin and the flute are heard; I am wondering why the oboe is not involved in any of the concertos. Considering this collection was printed in 1720 it is noteworthy that the transverse flute is given an important role as at that time it was still a relatively new instrument.

Four of the six concertos are in four movements: slow - fast - slow - fast, following the model of the Corellian sonata da camera and sonata da chiesa. Five of the concertos begin with a largo, and these opening movements are all very expressive. That is also the case in the Concerto III in B flat whose first part is played on the violin. The third movement is another largo, which is very short and not more than a transition between the preceding and the following fast movements.

The Concerto I in g minor contains a bourrée and closes with a capriccio. Here two recorders play colla parte with the violins, although this is nowhere mentioned in the programme notes and the list of players doesn't indicate the use of recorders. This practice gives these movements a kind of folk-like flavour.

In many movements the two treble instruments get some solo passages and imitate each other or play in parallel motion. But sometimes one of the instruments is acting as soloist like in a solo concerto. That is in particular the case in the allegro of the Concerto VI in c minor. In the next piece, the Concerto IV in G, this happens again in the largo and the allegro. This concerto is in three movements, and the middle movement is called 'Vigil Nocturnus - Der Nachtwächter', a reference to the Nightwatch as in a Serenade by Biber. Both in the opening largo of this concerto and in the largo - the third movement - of the Concerto II in d minor the flute plays against quietly moving strings.

In the Concerto V in F the recorders are playing colla parte with the strings again in the capriccio. This movement is preceded by a very lively allegro, one of the most sparkling pieces on this disc, alongside the gigue of the Concerto VI. Also worth mentioning are the menuets, which are very well played here by the ensemble.

In addition to the concertos opus 4 we get three arias for soprano with instrumental accompaniment. They are modelled after the Italian opera aria, and written in ABA form. In Aria V in G the soprano is supported by two transverse flutes, strings and bc. This scoring suits the text which says "I surrender my heart to you, sweet Jesus, heart for heart, love for love I give you".
Aria XII begins with an instrumental introduction in binary form (slow - fast) for oboe, violin and bc, which is also the instrumental scoring of the aria. Its text is not that different from the Aria V: "O Lord, it is thou I adore since thou were the first to love me."
Aria II in c minor is for soprano, flute and bc; in the first line there are some effective general pauses, again derived from the text: "If you are silent, Jesus ...".

These three arias were written to be used as Graduals or Offertories during Mass. The last piece on this disc is specifically written as a Gradual for Sunday Quinquagesimae by Šimon Brixi. He was the father of the better-known Franz Xaver Brixi, and also worked in Prague. Only a small portion of his compositions has survived, among them the Gradual Tu es Deus, a fiery piece praising God for his power: "You are God, the sole creator of miracles, amongst nations you have revealed your strength".
This is well reflected in the performance, at high speed, with strong dynamic accents. Hana Blažíková gives a splendid performance, and she also sings the arias by Brentner with great sensitivity and a thorough understanding of the text. She has a lovely voice, and I very much like her very relaxed way of singing, without any stress at the high notes. She also adds some tasteful ornaments.

The instrumentalists give spirited and stylish performances, technically impeccable and rhythmically infectious. Brentner may have been virtually ignored for a long time, but he couldn't have wished for better performances of his works than the Collegium Marianum and Hana Blažíková are delivering here. The booklet is exemplary: informative liner notes, a list of the players and a specification of their period instruments as well as all lyrics with English, German, French and Czech translations.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Collegium Marianum

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