I have to admitt that I bought this CD mostly for the «Missa a tre chori» by Antonio Lotti, but it is always with excitement I listen to Zelenka's brilliant Miserere and JS Bach's masterly Cantata BWV 12, especially when it is in a version (Leipzig-version in G minor) I've never heard before.
The jagging chords of Jan Dismas Zelenka's Miserere in C minor may come as a surprise if one is not familiar with Zelenka's music. The music is in every way out of the order to any century of church music... In this recording we have one of the most energetic openings of the Miserere on disc.
That said, I feel it gives too much away right from the outset, and a more subtle build-up for this 16- minute long motet would be a wiser approach. Another weakness is the crux of the motet i.e. the third movement with a soprano solo singing the Gloria.The soprano need to be rather «Eindringend» to top the chock-opening in the first movement, sadly both the soprano and Thomas Hengelbrock seems to come a little short.
The second movement (Miserere II) is also a let-down. Here the orchestra (strings, oboes and a powerfull organ) and 4-part chorus are pitted against eachother. The striking palpitating bass-theme of the opening movement (Miserere I)is repeated in the orchestra while the choir sings the text of Psalm 50 (51) with a repeated cantus firmus (Miserere mei Deus)rather energetic but with a lack of variation of timbres and phrasing. The result is rather monotonus, and seems to miss the sense of mystery and agony, which a good interpretation should have.
JS Bach' s early Weimar-cantata «Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen» have one of the most beautiful opening sinfonias I know, with an oboe-solo which is almost to die for. This recording of Bach's Leipzig-version, is to my knowledge the only one on disc. The first vocal movement is a motet-style chorus divided in two sections, with a da capo. It is vital that these two sections are contrasted in tempo, expression and rythm to get a forward momentum that an opening movement should have (Both Joshua Rifkin (Dorian) and Gustav Leonhardt (Teldec) understands this). Sadly Thomas Hengelbrock do not contrast the first and second («Die das Zeichen Jesu tragen») sections and the whole first movement seems to be just one long lamento, not going anywhere.
The two ensuing movements are a let-down. It is an alto recitative and an aria sung by Marion Eckstein. There is a problem here that points to a «typical» problem of the Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble, letting the singers in the chorus tackle Bach's enormously taxing soli and not handing over the «job» to a more experienced outsider. None of the singers (A, T, B) are sadly up to the task, and my guess is that a singer like Bernard Landauer or Beat Dudeck (which is two very interesting singers, and also members of the choir) would have tackled these two movements better, if one was to insist that singers of the «Ensemble» should sing these parts. The problems with the alto recitative and aria are both technical and textual, and there seems to be little understanding of Salomo Franck's highly charged text, full of religious implications that a Lutheran surely would understand right away - Max van Egmond's wonderfuly subtle rendering of «Ich küsse Christi Schmach» for Leonhardt must surely be ideal for «Ich folge Christum nach». The use of the tromba da tirarsi (Zugtrompete) in the tenor-aria «Sei getreu, alle Pein» is very accomplished, but I find the tenor (Julian Podger) rather cold on the text, and I miss a more emotional response to it.
To say that Antonio Lotti is an underrated composer may seem like a rather cliché-statement, but in fact it is such a grave error not to mention Lotti in the course of development of church music, that it would be the same as not to mention Joseph Haydn or Ludwig van Beethoven in the genesis of the symphony. In this respect Thomas Hengelbrock's series of recordings of Lotti's music is extremely important, just to set matters straight. Luckily there is more to it than that, and Lotti's Missa a tre cori should be anyone's real reason to buy this CD. Having said that and in light of the over-the-top Zelenka Miserere and the rather anemic Bach, these two works cannot quite escape the impression of beeing fillers to the main work of art here. The magnificent Missa of Lotti, on which the inadequat booklet tells us virtually nothing, is beyond doubt one of the most impressive «Missae breves» composed at the start of the 18th century. There are one very interesting case with the «et in terra pax», which seems to invoce Handel's «De torrente in via bibet» from the Dixit Dominus (I'd really like to hear others opinion on that!), the case is that Handel's motet is from around 1708 and written for Rome and Lotti's Missa is undated, but at any rate before 1719, and written for Venice - could Handel's be the earliest one??? - There are so many great things to hold up for the Missa a tre cori that it would be beyond the scope of this review to comment any further on it, just let it be said that this is a highly enjoyable and important recording, even if it just concerns the Missa a tre cori.