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Šimon BRIXI (1693 - 1735): Magnificat, Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento, Missa ex D

Hana Blažíková, sopranoa; Jaromír Nosek, bassb
Hipocondria Ensemble
Dir: Jan Hádek

rec: Feb 5 - 10, 2021, Prague, Michna Palace (Baroque Assembly Hall)
Supraphon - SU 4293-2 (© 2021) (79'18")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/CZ; lyrics - translations: E/CZ
Cover & track-list

Alma redemptoris materb; Arietta de gloriosissima resurrectione Domini nostri Jesu Christia; Domine ad adjuvandum me festina; Litaniae de Venerabili Sacramento; Magnificat; Missa ex D

Hana Blažíková, Stanislava Mihalcová, Marta Fadljevicová, soprano; Kamila Mazalová, Daniela Cermáková, contralto; Jan Mikušek, alto; Ondrej Holub, Cenek Svoboda, Tomáš Lajtkep, tenor; Jaromír Nosek, Martin Vacula, Lukáš Zeman, bass
Jaroslav Roucek, Karel Mnuk, trumpet; Jiri Sycha, Magdalena Malá, Markéta Knittlová, Simona Tydlitátová, Vojtech Jakl, Veronika Manová, violin; Eleonora Machová, Petra Šcevková, viola; Hana Fleková, viola da gamba, cello; Ondrej Michal, cello; Ondrej Štajnochr, double bass; Filip Dvorák, organ; Pavel Rehberger, timpani

Those who see the name Brixi on the cover of this disc may think that it is devoted to music by Frantisek Xaver Brixi (1732-1771), a composer of the generation of the Bach sons, who has become best known for his organ works and especially his keyboard concertos. However, the composer whose works are performed here, is his father, Šimon, who belonged to one branch of a family of musicians. Another branch included Dorota Brixi, who was the mother of the Benda brothers who were in the service of Frederick the Great.

Šimon was educated as an organist and received his first musical training at the Jesuit Gymnasium Jicín. He then went to Prague University, where he studied law. That did not last long, as he devoted himself to music and became organist at the Týn Church. He soon earned a reputation as a composer, which brought him commissions for the writing of occasional music. His wedding in 1724 was celebrated by Bohuslav Matej Cernohorský, a composer and priest at the Franciscan monastery in Prague. In 1725 Brixi became a music teacher at the school of St Martín and organist at the church, and from 1727 was choirmaster at St Martín. Frantisek Xaver was his second child, but Brixi did not see his development into a respected composer, as in 1735 he died, probably of turberculosis.

It is likely that a large part of Brixi's oeuvre has been lost; fewer than forty of his works have been preserved. Stylistically it shows the influence of the style of composers as Caldara and Fux. However, there are also some traces of the galant idiom. His oeuvre attests to a good command of counterpoint, which comes to the fore in fugal episodes. He also uses harmony to good effect in the interest of text expression.

The programme opens with the Missa ex D, which has the usual five sections. The Kyrie is rather short: the longest section is the second Kyrie which is fugal. The very short Christe is, as was common at the time, for solo voices. The Gloria is divided into seven sections. 'Laudamus te' is - again according to a wide-spread practice - for solo voice, here soprano. 'Domine Deus' is a duet for alto and tenor. In 'Qui tollis peccata mundi' Brixi uses chromaticism to express the text. 'Quoniam tu solus sanctus' is a solo for bass, and 'Cum Sancto Spiritu' is fugal. The Credo comprises four sections, and opens with a section for soli and tutti. The second is a setting of the 'Crucifixus'; it opens with hammering chords in the strings, undoubtedly referring to the hammering of the nails into the Cross. Again Brixi makes use of harmonic means to express the text. The soli passages are for alto, tenor and bass. The Benedictus is often set for solo voice(s) and that is the case here as well: Brixi has set it as a duet of alto and tenor. The Agnus Dei - and the Mass - ends with a fugal setting of "dona nobis pacem".

The second item is the Arietta de gloriosissima resurrrectione Domini nostri Jesu Christi. This piece was intended to replace the Offertory in the Mass. As the title indicates it is intended for Easter. It has the form of a dacapo aria, and it is not surprising that the orchestra includes trumpets and timpani. The vocal part includes quite some coloratura.

The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary was quite often set by composers of the baroque era. Its text - each line ends with the same words: "miserere nobis" - has inspired many composers to create a contrast through a differentiation in scoring, for instance soli versus tutti, or to set it for two choirs. Brixi chooses a different path: the text is divided into nine sections, set for solo voices or tutti, not unlike the Mass or the Magnificat that ends this disc. The second section, 'Hostia immaculata', is a duet of soprano and alto, with two obbligato violin parts. The fourth section, 'Praecelsum venerabile', is an aria for tenor. 'Oblatum holocaustum', the sixth section, is for three solo voices (SAT) and tutti.

Alma redemptoris mater is one of the Marian antiphons and has been set numerous times throughout history. This setting by Brixi is written in the form of a motet with three arias, but without a dacapo; there are also no recitatives. Much attention is given to the words "succurre cadenti". The closing word "miserere" is sung piano, with a notable trill depicting the meaning of the word.

Domine ad adiuvandum me festina is an antiphon which was sung at the beginning of Vespers. It was mostly sung in plainchant or in falso bordone. Brixi's setting is dominated by a rising figure, which appears at the opening in the basso continuo and is then taken over by the other voices.

The disc ends with a setting of the Magnificat, and here Brixi follows the same procedure as in the Mass and the Litaniae, or as Johann Sebastian Bach in his setting of this text. It is divided into ten sections, scored for tutti and/or soli. The work opens with a tutti section with instrumental ritornellos in dotted rhythm, which is followed by a fugal section. 'Quia respexit' is a duet of soprano and alto. 'Quia fecit mihi magna' is a solo for tenor, with an obbligato part for viola da gamba. 'Fecit potentiam' is for alto solo, 'Deposuit potentes' for soprano. The latter ends with a descending figure, undoubtedly referring to the last words "exaltavit humiles". 'Sicut locutus est' is a solo for bass, and the work ends, as was customary at the time, with a fugue.

This disc may well be the very first that is devoted to the oeuvre of Šimon Brixi. It is rather surprising that it seems not to have been given any attention before. The music performed here is a convincing testimony of his qualities as a composer of sacred music. It makes one regret the loss of a part of his oeuvre and it also makes curious about other pieces that have been preserved. Let us hope that more of his oeuvre will be recorded in the near future. Brixi is served very well by the performers. The Hipocondria Ensemble is excellent, both vocally and instrumentally. Brixi's music is performed according to its character as ensemble music: the solo parts are performed by members of the choir. This guarantees an optimum coherence between soli and tutti. Both Hana Blažíková and Jaromír Nosek deliver outstanding performances of their respective solos.

Šimon Brixi's music is a most impressive and enjoyable specimen of the rich musical culture of 18th-century Bohemia.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Hana Blažíková
Jaromír Nosek

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