Zach: Music from eighteenth-century Prague

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Zach
LABELS: Supraphon
ALBUM TITLE: Zach
WORKS: Requiem solemne in C minor; Vesperae de Beata Virginie in D
PERFORMER: Musica Florea, Collegium Floreum/Marek Stryncl
CATALOGUE NO: SU 4209-2

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Czech 18th-century music continues to surprise and delight. Jan Zach, like many of his Czech musical contemporaries, was born outside Prague, but unlike many of them forged a successful career as organist and composer in the capital. Later, he took to the road across central Europe as a respected teacher and performer.

Composed in Prague in the 1730s, the ‘Solemn’ Requiem clearly captured imaginations resulting in a more or less continuous performance tradition up to the present day. Its allure is at once apparent. While Zach is clearly expert in the conventions of the late Baroque, as is clear from the beautifully-crafted Kyrie fugue, his writing is always engaging. The Dies irae, with splendidly graphic word painting at the sound of the ‘last trumpet’, is particularly arresting. Musica Florea’s instrumental performing is consistently expert, although early on in the Requiem the chorus lacks bite and could do with a more favourable recorded balance.

The Vespers of the Blessed Virgin – a world premiere recording – is in a different class both musically and in terms of performance. In this elegant and succinct setting, Zach adopts an idiom that is more graceful than in the Requiem, particularly in the abundant duet sections, and undoubtedly more excitable. A fine example is the ‘Dominus a dextris tuis’ in which chant-like soprano solos contrast with vigorous choral writing. The performers respond to this volatile music with singing and playing that is well-focused and compellingly expressive. Both works are well worth investigating, but the Vespers are a real find.

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Jan Smaczny