Zelenka: Melodrama De Sancto Wenceslad / Stryncl, Musica Florea

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Here's a case where the music so completely and satisfyingly transcends the texts, that we can thoroughly enjoy the proceedings without really having to know...
Here's a case where the music so completely and satisfyingly transcends the texts, that we can thoroughly enjoy the proceedings without really having to know what all the singing and playing is about. The texts--the singing is in Latin--are in the most serious, heavily ornate, flowery Baroque poetic style, and are concerned with religious devoutness and allegorical representations of traits such as "Fortitude", "Suspicion", "Dignity", "Faith", and "Godliness". Even the work's title, which translates "Under the olive tree of peace and the palm tree of virtue the Crown of Bohemia splendidly shines before the whole world", tells you something of the solemnity and high importance of the occasion for which it was written: the 1723 coronation ceremony in Prague of Emperor Charles VI and his wife Elisabeth Christine. Zelenka's music, which amounts to a kind of oratorio-type structure--orchestral introductions and interludes, choruses, arias, and various other solo/choral combinations--actually was designed to accompany a dramatic presentation that also included dances and parts for actors. Fortunately for us today, we can sit back and just listen to some of the more delightful--sometimes breathtakingly powerful--music from this period that didn't come from the pen of Bach or Handel. Even Zelenka was impressed enough with some of the work's movements that he reused them in adapted form the following year for sections of his Te Deum.

The opening Sinfonia is a brilliant enough piece all on its own, but the chorus that immediately follows takes us to yet another level of excitement, setting a sumptuously decorated stage for what is to come. Although there's a substantial amount of music here, no one section stays too long, and the arias show care for musical beauty well beyond anything suggested by the texts. And there's nothing pale or simple in the writing either, whether for instruments or voices: much of it, especially the vocal solos, requires performers of considerable accomplishment, even virtuosity. The opening chorus is quite a tour de force, and in this performance we're treated to the lovely sound and impeccable technique of the boys' and men's voices of the Czech choir Boni Pueri. That this is a Czech production mirrors its original performance in Prague's Jesuit Clementinum, which not only involved native Czech singers and actors, but also was conducted by the Czech-born Zelenka. The orchestral writing, which includes such ceremonial staples as trumpets and timpani, used to great effect, is bright-spirited and masterfully constructed to hold our interest and maintain dramatic momentum. The soloists are generally very good and there's some really terrific interaction in duets and in dialogs with the chorus. The sound is full-bodied and sufficiently detailed to give immediate presence to all the performers while preserving appropriate balances. Anyone who enjoys large-scale Baroque choral/orchestral music will love this unusual and musically engaging work--another gem in the crown of a composer that's finally getting just recognition.

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Reviewing original release, Supraphon 3520

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 29, 2013

  • UPC: 099925411329

  • Catalog Number: SU4113-2

  • Label: Supraphon

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Composer: Jan Dismas Zelenka

  • Conductor: Marek Stryncl

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Boni Pueri Boys Choir, Musica Aeterna, Musica Florea, Philidor Ensemble

  • Performer: Adam Zdunikowski, Ales Procházka, Anna Hlavenková, Jaroslav Brezina, Markus Forster, Noémi Kiss