‘Missa Divi Xaverii’ performed by Collegium Vocale 1704

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COMPOSERS: Jan Dismas Zelenka
LABELS: Accent
ALBUM TITLE: Zelenka
WORKS: Missa Divi Xaverii; Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio
PERFORMER: Hana Blazˇíková (soprano), Kamila Mazalova, Lucile Richardot (alto), Václav ∫izˇek (tenor), Stephan MacLeod (bass); Collegium Vocale 1704;
CATALOGUE NO: Accent ACC 24301

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The well-travelled, proselytising 16th-century Jesuit, St Francis Xavier was the patron of Habsburg Archduchess Maria Josepha. She was the wife of Saxon Crown Prince Friedrich August II, and it was her personal saint who provided Zelenka at the Dresden court during the 1720s with the inspirational source for a Mass and three Litanies. The Missa Divi Xaverii is a scintillating D major piece for soloists, choir, trumpets, drums, flutes, oboes, bassoon and strings.

Listeners will immediately be struck by Zelenka’s distinctive and colourful deployment of instruments: in the pastoral Domine Deus II, soprano and alto soloists are accompanied by limpid flutes with unison violins while in the contemplative B minor Benedictus we find soprano with violin and oboe d’amore. The work is full of vivid contrasts ranging from a resplendently orchestrated Quoniam with virtuoso wind parts to the softly spoken Agnus Dei for alto, flute and a walking bass.

The Litanies of St Francis Xavier were sung in Dresden during the vigil of the Feast in December and during the saint's octave (eight days after the Feast). This 1729 setting affords prominence to two horns but among its most arresting features is the manner of its conclusion with an imperfect cadence. Performances are uniformly satisfying under Václav Luks’s sensitive and experienced direction, with strong contributions from Hana Bla‑íková, Lucile Richardot and the instrumental obbligato players.

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Nicholas Anderson