Music From Eighteenth Century Prague / Luks, Collegium 1704

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T?MA Stabat Mater in g. ZELENKA Sub tuum præsidium : in g, ZWV 157/1 ; in c, ZWV 157/2 ; in d, ZWV 157/3. Sanctus...

T?MA Stabat Mater in g. ZELENKA Sub tuum præsidium : in g, ZWV 157/1 ; in c, ZWV 157/2 ; in d, ZWV 157/3. Sanctus et Agnus dei : in d, ZWV 36 ; in g, ZWV 34. ORSCHLER Trio Sonata in F Václav Luks, cond; Collegium vocale 1704; Collegium 1704 (period instruments) SUPRAPHON 4160 (56:01 Text and Translation)

There is a considerable volume of music out there by Bohemian composer Franti?ek T?ma (1704–1774), much of which remains to rediscovered. Trained in Prague, he moved to Vienna in 1729 or thereabouts, though he sought to return to his homeland a number of times, especially in 1734 when the post of Kapellmeister at the cathedral there came vacant. Although he had a reputation as the truest adherent of Johann Joseph Fux, the Imperial Kapellmeister, he was only able to obtain a post with the dowager Empress Elisabeth, which meant little in terms of advancement or success in composer-rich Vienna. Nonetheless, he managed to create a large corpus of works, among which this Stabat Mater eventually became his signature piece. At least, it was spread about in Central Europe and performed for many years after T?ma’s death. Of the other two composers on this disc, Jan Dismas Zelenka needs no introduction, as he is well represented in the discography. He too had a tough time of it, never really quite making it to be top music dog in Dresden. But now at least his innovative and exquisitely composed music has been successfully resurrected, so his compositional genius is being recognized at a much higher level than during his own lifetime, Johann Sebastian Bach’s admiration notwithstanding. The works presented here include several recorded for the first time, notably his completions of Palestrina Masses that may date from his studies with Fux during his youth. In addition, there are three of the motet Sub tuum presidium settings that seem to date from towards the end of his life and show the Italian Neapolitan influences that were all the rage in Dresden at the time. The third composer is violinist Johann Georg Orschler, who was born in Bohemia in 1698 and died sometime around 1767 after a career as a court musician. His work is a five-movement trio sonata that apparently caused some stir in Dresden, for the concertmaster Johann Pisendel copied it out.

There is no doubt that the focal point of the disc ought to be the T?ma, which is rich in progressive ideas, even as it is a spare setting, for only voices and continuo, that recalls the stile antico . The opening “Stabat mater,” for example, has a lovely set of shifting harmonies and an imitative series of vocal entrances that compares nicely with the more famous Pergolesi work. About a minute or so in, however, there is what I swear is fauxbourdon, a sort of really impressive throwback all the way to the early Renaissance. In the “Pro peccatis,” there is a fugal theme that consists of rising entrances chromatically, something that gives the work an urgency of the torment described in the text. In the “Virgo, virginum praeclara” the continuo flows along with a nice ostinato ground, which the two altos hover above with soft suspensions eventually dropping into block chords. The final fugue,”Fac ut animae,” has the traditional cruciform drop of a diminished seventh in the swirling theme, and I find this piece of counterpoint particularly deeply studied. In short, it is a powerful piece of music, no less gripping due to the spare setting. This makes the Zelenka pieces appear a bit lusher, although they too are couched in the Tridentine counterpoint of the stile antico . The Sub tuum in C Minor has a rather lush texture that arrives via some nice imitative entrances. It then devolves into a delightful if poignant quartet where the soprano and alto push forward short lines into homophonic colophons. The Mass movements, all completions of Palestrina works, of which apparently Zelenka only had the opening movements, are more reminiscent to my ear of Alessandro Scarlatti than Girolamo Frescobaldi as the notes proclaim. To be sure, the final Agnus Dei of the Nigra sum Mass is carefully controlled Renaissance counterpoint, but the preceding Benedictus is not entirely stylistically convincing, if one is tempted to make all of this an 18th-century anachronism. The only odd work out is the Orschler Sonata, which stands somewhere between Telemann and Bach. The opening has a nice imitative falling motive that seems to indicate studied simplicity, but soon the chromaticism kicks in and it becomes positively Corellian. The second movement outlines what appears to be a folk song with unexpected rhythmic pulses. There are just enough slight turns to keep the music interesting, and yet the Baroque pedigree is clear throughout.

One might think that this sort of disc would be only of limited interest. The T?ma had several renditions a little over a decade ago, including a recording on Accent from 1999 and a reprocessing of some vinyl discs on the Czech Music Master series from the 1960s. And such spare music in an antique style composed within the brilliant musical style of the late Baroque might seem anachronistic. But the performances by the Collegium 1704 are superb. A single soprano, Hana Blažíkova, is balanced nicely by pairs of altos, tenors, and basses, all with a wonderfully discrete but omnipresent organ continuo. In the sonata, violinists Helena Zemanová and Jana Chytilová weave about each other in an equal arabesque, complemented by a solid continuo foundation. This is the anodyne to the often ostentatious brilliance of the music of the times, and for collectors it is highly recommended to show the stylistic breadth of which these composers were capable.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer

Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 25, 2014

  • UPC: 099925416027

  • Catalog Number: SU4160-2

  • Label: Supraphon

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Franz Ignaz Anton Tuma, Georg Orschler, Jan Dismas Zelenka

  • Conductor: Václav Luks

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Collegium 1704

  • Performer: Collegium 1704, Luks