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"Zelenka - Tuma (Music from eighteenth-century Prague)"

Collegium Vocale 1704; Collegium 1704
Dir: Václav Luks

rec: Nov 8 - 10 & Dec 3, 2013, Prague, Domovina Studio
Supraphon - SU 4160-2 (© 2013) (56'01")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/Cz; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/Cz
Cover & track-list

Johann Georg ORSCHLER (1698-1767/70): Sonata for two violins and bc in Fa; Frantisek Ignác Antonín TUMA (1704-1774): Stabat mater in g minorb; Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745): Sanctus et Agnus Dei in d minor (ZWV 36)c; Sanctus et Agnus Dei ex Missa Nigra sum a 4 in g minor (ZWV 34)d; Sub tuum praesidium in g minor (ZWV 157,1)e; Sub tuum praesidium in c minor (ZWV 157,2)f; Sub tuum praesidium in d minor (ZWV 157,3)g

Hana Blaziková, soprano; Kamila Mazalová, Marta Fadljevicová, contralto; Václav Cizek, Cenek Svoboda, tenor; Tomás Král, Jaromír Nosek, bass
Helena Zemanová, Jana Chytilová, violina; Libor Masek, cello; David Sinclair, double bassbcdefg; Jan Krejca, theorbo; Pablo Kornfeldbcdefg, Václav Luksa, organ

One of the features of the stile nuovo which emerged in the early 17th century in Italy was the extended role of single voices or instruments. Composers started to write music for a solo voice or instrument, often of a quite virtuosic character. However, the stile antico which was dominant in the previous centuries was still frequently applied, especially in sacred music. One of the advocates of that style in the late 17th and early 18th centuries was Johann Joseph Fux (c1660-1741). He exerted a strong influence through his treatise Gradus ad Parnassum as well as directly through his teaching. The present disc is devoted to music by three composers from Bohemia who were his pupils.

The programme begins with a setting of the Stabat mater by Frantisek Ignác Antonín Tuma. He was born in Kostelec where his father worked as organist and was also his first teacher. He probably studied in Prague with Cernohorsky and then went to Vienna. By 1731 he was in the service of Count Franz Ferdinand Kinsky, the High Chancellor of Bohemia, who allowed him to study counterpoint with Fux. When Kinsky died in 1741 Tuma was appointed Kapellmeister to the widow of Emperor Charles VI. According to Count Kinsky Tuma was a follower of Fux's principles, meaning that his sacred music is written in the stile antico and shows reminiscences of Palestrina. The Stabat mater is a particularly good example. It is scored for four voices and basso continuo, and has some similarity with Domenico Scarlatti's setting of the same text for ten voices and bc. The influence of Palestrina is evident, but - as with so often with sacred music of that time - it also includes traces of the concertante style and even elements which point in the direction of the classical style of the late 18th century. There are many moments when the text is illustrated, for instance on words like "tormentis" and "flagellatis subditum". It is a wonderful and very expressive setting of this famous text and receives a performance of great beauty and incisiveness. The voices blend perfectly and every nuance in the text is clearly exposed.

The second main composer on the programme is much better known. Jan Dismas Zelenka is best known for his masses. The fact that most of them are available in several recordings bears witness to the popularity of his music. Zelenka was quite adventurous: much of his oeuvre is unconventional, for instance in the use of harmony. In his later works he included elements of the modern galant idiom as he came under increasing criticism for his conservative style. Counterpoint plays an important part in his compositions, and it comes as no surprise that Bach was among his admirers. The mass sections recorded here are rather curious as both are partly based on music by Palestrina, the great model of the stile antico which figured prominently in Fux's teachings. In the Agnus Dei from the Sanctus et Agnus Dei in d minor Zelenka makes use of two sections from Palestrina's Missa sine nomine. The court chapel in Dresden, where Zelenka worked most of his life, owned a copy of Palestrina's Missa Nigra sum but only the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo. Zelenka composed the missing parts himself. Whereas most of the music is his own, albeit in Palestrina style, the Agnus Dei II is a parody of the Kyrie II of Palestrina's mass. These pieces are also interesting as they allow a comparison between Palestrina and 'pseudo-Palestrina'. I wonder whether a listener who doesn't know that parts of this work are from Zelenka's pen would hear any difference.

The three settings of the text Sub tuum praesidium are from a set of ten. They are quite different: the setting in d minor is dominated by homophony, but ends with a fugue. The second in c minor is more polyphonic, and begins and ends with a fugue. In this setting Zelenka makes frequent use of general pauses. These pieces were written for the Roman-Catholic liturgy and bear witness to the influence of Marie Josepha of Austria, daughter of the Habsburg emperor Joseph I, who married August III, future Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

The third composer in the programme is an unknown quantity, and little is known about him. Johann Georg Orschler was born in Breslau in Silesia (today Wroclaw in Poland). He was in Prague in the late 1720s, having studied with Johann Joseph Fux in Vienna. The Sonata in F is one of two which are preserved in the archive of the court orchestra in Dresden. This is an indication that he was held in high esteem.

This is a most intriguing disc. It was a great idea to focus on one specific aspect in the oeuvre of three composers, two of which are little known or hardly known at all. Certainly the oeuvre of Tuma which is of considerable size deserves to be thoroughly explored. It would be great if Václav Luks would take care of that because he delivers exquisite performances here with his fine ensemble of singers and players. This is definitely one of the best discs I have heard lately.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Collegium 1704

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