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Václav Gunther JACOB (1685 - 1734): Missa Dei Filii

Capella Regia Praha
Dir: Robert Hugo

rec: Oct 29 - Nov 1, 2008 & Feb 1 - 2, 2009, Prague, Brevnov Monastery (Theresian Hall)
Supraphon - SU3971-2 (© 2009) (79'32")

Václav Gunther JACOB: Dixit Dominus [1]; Laetetur omne saeculum (Offertorium de Sancto Adalberto); Missa Dei Filii [2]; Vezirius Turcicus (arr. Robert Hugo); Valentin RATHGEBER (1682-1750); Concerto in C, op. 19,1 [4]; Concerto in F, op. 19,3 [4]; Concerto for violin, strings and bc in D, op. 6,6 [3]

Sources: [1] Václav Gunther Jacob, Anathema Gratiarum, 1714; [2] Acratismus pro honore Dei, op. 2, 1725; [3] Valentin Rathgeber, Chelys sonora, 1728; [4] Sacrarum Quadriformae, 1738

This disc belongs to a series with "Music from eighteenth-century Prague", as the cover of the booklet says. The repertoire which was performed in Prague during the first half of the eighteenth century is largely unknown. I don't think many music lovers will have ever heard of Václav Gunter Jacob. As so often there is a strong discrepancy between his fame in his own time and his obscurity today.

Jacob was born in the village Krajková, then a mining town called Gossengrün, near Sokolov. In his childhood he sang as a treble at the Kladruby Monastery and later as an alto at the Benedictine Monastery by the St Nicholas Church on Old Town Square in Prague. At an early age he showed interest in becoming a composer, writing his first mass when he was 16 years old. It was full of errors, as he never had received any composition lessons. But he continued to compose religious music which so much impressed the monastery's abbot that he promised to support his future education in music. For a while he studied law but soon turned to music completely.

He entered the monastery he had left and was ordained a priest in 1714. Because of the plague - from which he recovered - and gout he had to struggle with poor health all his life. That didn't prevent him from further developing his skills as a composer. His first collection of music was printed in 1714 and brought him some fame, also outside his homeland. In 1725 a collection of sacred music was published in Nuremberg. Copies of Jacob's printed music have been found in several places in Europe, among others in Munich and Bologna. The dissemination of his music led to commissions from Poland, Bavaria and Hungary. Although his formal education was limited he not only became famous as a composer but also was active as a teacher. One of his pupils was Frantisek (or Franz) Benda.

The disc begins with a setting of Psalm 109 (110), Dixit Dominus. It is taken from Jacob's first collection of music of 1714, and considering the year of printing the prominent role of the two horns is remarkable. They are used to great effect in the third section, 'Virgam virtutis' and in the seventh, 'Judicabit'. In these sections the words "dominare" (rule) and "conquassabit" (crush) are especially singled out. There are other eloquent illustrations of the text as well. The Psalm ends with a fugal 'Amen'.

The main work on this disc is the Missa Dei Filii. It contains only the Ordinary: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. But in this recording two parts of the Propers have been added. As Graduale we hear a violin concerto by Valentin Rathgeber and as Offertory a piece which Jacob wrote for the feast of St Adalbert, one of the Czech patron saints.

The Kyrie is in three sections. The first Kyrie begins with a dialogue between the high and the low voices of the tutti, then between the soprano and alto soloists and the strings. The end of this section is set for the tutti, with a dissonant on "eleison". The Christe eleison is a beautiful solo for soprano with strings and basso continuo. The concluding Kyrie is a fugal movement.

In the Gloria the 'Laudamus te' is a duet for soprano and alto, followed by a tutti section on "Gratias". 'Domine Deus' is a solo for the tenor in which the bass of the instrumental ensemble is given much weight. 'Qui tollis' begins as a solo for the bass, who is then joined by the three other solo voices and then by the tutti. The word "miserere" is emphasized through harmony. 'Quoniam' is a duet for soprano and bass; the former has a steep ascending figure on "Jesu". The 'Credo' is characterised by ascending and descending figures on words like "descendit de coelis", "crucifixus" and "passus". The bass solo in the 'Crucifixus' section is particularly expressive.

The bass also sings the Benedictus, whereas the Sanctus is set for the tutti. Notable is the Hosanna: it is largely fugal and begins with three solo voices (soprano, alto, tenor), first with only basso continuo. They are then joined by the strings, and then the tutti come in. It is one of the most expressive parts of this Mass.

The same kind of evolution takes place in the Agnus Dei: the first Agnus is a solo for soprano, the second is a tenor solo, the third is then set for the tutti after which a fugal 'Dona nobis pacem' closes the Mass. In the Offertory Laetetur omne saeculum the strings are joined by the two horns again. It starts with a vivacious instrumental introduction, followed by a section for the tutti. Next follows a beautiful aria for soprano with an obbligato part for the oboe. The piece ends with a fugue.

This disc also contains three instrumental pieces by Valentin Rathgeber. He was a German composer who has mainly become known because of his Tafel-Confect, a series of three collections with popular songs, but he also was very influential as a composer of religious music. His oeuvre in this genre was especially popular in southern Germany. The two concertos from his opus 19 are rather short, but delightful and well-written. The Concerto for violin, strings and bc in D, op. 6,6 is also pretty short, but the part of the solo violin - only in the two fast movements - isn't without substance. The three pieces are very well played by the instrumentalists of the Capella Regia Praha and Daniel Deuter gives a good account of the solo violin part. The horn players should be particularly complimented as they give brilliant performances. And it is very nice that they are so clearly audible as the horn parts are essential in expressing key elements in the text.

This is only an indication of the general level of the performances on this disc. I think this ensemble is probably the best in the Czech early music scene. I have heard other recordings under Robert Hugo's direction before, and these were all excellent. This disc is no exception.

The vocal ensemble consists of 12 singers who also take the solo parts. The blending of the voices as well as the balance between the voice groups is very good and there is also a great transparency of the sound of the ensemble. The solo parts are all given splendid performances, and it is just a joy to hear these people sing with so much commitment and technical assurance.

And it is all for a worthy cause. I was really struck by the beauty of Jacob's music and I am very curious to hear more of his oeuvre. This disc fully deserves anyone's attention as both music and interpretation are of a very high standard.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Capella Regia Praha

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