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Zelenka: Sepolcri - Music 18th c. Prague
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 2011
Readers of Janice B. Stockigt's book on Zelenka (2000) as well as other Zelenka fans have undoubtedly been looking forward to a recording of the sepulchre cantatas, three of Zelenka's earliest surviving works. At last, a CD recording has been released; and the performance under the direction of flautist Jana Semerádová is exquisite!

As a genre, the sepulchre cantata originated at the seventeenth-century Habsburg Court in Vienna, where it may have taken the form of a staged performance. Zelenka's cantatas have been described as an amalgam of the Viennese genre, the Jesuit Latin school drama, and the Roman oratorio. The music was to be performed on Good Friday during an adoration taking place in front of a cabinet intended to represent the Holy Sepulchre. Typically, thousands of candles and oil lamps placed behind the cabinet were used for illumination. Curiously enough, no aspect of Zelenka's cantatas links the works with Holy Week.

Wolfgang Horn, in the liner notes, is right in pointing out that these cantatas already show the fingerprints of the composer's mature style: "the tendency to expressive, often dolorously sounding melody and a penchant for thoroughly elaborate fugues with remarkable themes." In fact, these may be the very traits that are drawing an increasing audience to Zelenka's works. The music is just so beautiful! "Immisit Dominus pestilentiam" (ZWV 58), composed by the 29-year-old Zelenka, features recitatives, arias, arioso sections, declamatory choruses, and fugues. "Sacrificemur Domino" is a choral fugue based upon double counterpoint, in which all the characteristics of Zelenka's mature style are already present. "Attendite et videte" (ZWV 59), written three years later, is based upon movements from his Missa Sanctae Caeciliae (ZWV 1), of which unfortunately no recording is available. As pointed out by Stockigt, the aria "Deo subjecta" contains many elements that were to be typical of Zelenka's later style, including a chromatically descending bass line. In "Deus dux fortissime" (ZWV 60), the use of double chorus ("Bella premunt hostili") evokes associations with seventeenth-century Venetian music.

This is a fascinating disc for all who wish to expand their discoveries of Zelenka's music. Singers and instrumentalists are perfectly attuned to the music; and dynamics, phrasing, and tempi sound just right. The production is deserving of every accolade. The only negative thing I can say about this CD is that the booklet is too thick to fit in the jewel case once it has been removed.
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Jan Dismas Zelenka's earliest surviving works, written whilst still in his native Prague, are these three works for performance on the morning of Good Friday, dated 1709, 1712 and 1716 respectively. They are in effect cantata-like pieces using both chorus (here SATBx2) and solo arias and recitatives. The poor state of preservation of the autograph manuscripts means that there has been considerable reconstruction necessary, although for the most part the fact that texts are taken from the Vulgate plus application of rules of composition has taken care of much of this.

The intended occasion of performance means not surprisingly that this is music in a somewhat darker tone than much of his later work, though as the booklet notes, the "mature style" of Zelenka (he was nearly 30 by the time the first of these was written) is already recognisably there.

Excellent vocal soloists here include soprano Hana Blazikova who seems to be first to get the call when a new recording of Zelenka is in the offing, plus countertenor David Erler who performs with the stunning Renaissance polyphony ensemble "The Sound and the Fury", though he seems slightly more subdued here.

The booklet (which is virtually impossible to get back into the case without wrecking it) supplies some notes, along with Latin sung texts and separate translations (English, German, French, Czech).
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on 27 April 2015
Just extraordinary... I will just have to buy EVERYTHING the Collegium Marianum records - everything (vocals and instrumentals) is always superb !
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