Zelenka Canatas for Holy Sepulchre

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Jan Dismas Zelenka
LABELS: Supraphon
ALBUM TITLE: Zelenka
WORKS: Canatas for Holy Sepulchre:Immisit Dominus pestilentiam ZWV 58; Attendite et videte ZWV 59; Deux dux fortissime SWV 60
PERFORMER: Hana Blažíková, David Erler, Tobias Hunger, Thomás Král; Collegium Marianum/Jana Semerádová
CATALOGUE NO: SU40682

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Gorgeously conceived, Jan Dismas Zelenka’s cantatas call out for a flamboyance of execution notably absent from this performance. Credit is due to Jana Semerádová for a world-premiere recording, and for the cool professionalism with which he and his choir illuminate the score’s structure. What fails to come through is the verve with which the composer appealed to his Jesuit constituents. Contrast (of affect, of texture), surprise (sudden silences, quirky progressions) and novelty (scoring, extension of forms) coalesce into music of startling originality. The extremity of Zelenka’s gestures – the exclamatio melodic leaps, the running bass that races ahead of the melody, the sepulchral timbres deployed for laments – should ignite the imagination of vocalists, and hence listeners. It doesn’t.

Part of the problem is balance. The instrumentalists often overpower the solo voices, both expressively and sonically; sung phrase ends are sometimes inaudible, especially when David Erler performs. More interventionist sound-engineering might have helped, but the singers’ disengagement from the words is beyond the help of any engineer. Two cantatas open with lengthy, scene-setting recitative arioso: we hear of pestilence, blood, bile, lions, prayers, burnt offerings and 70,000 deaths. Zelenka brilliantly animates these words in musical gestures that remain largely unshaped in performance. With two voices to each part, the choir is deft, but slightly anaemic. The artistry of Zelenka, rather than that of the performers, is what makes this disc a worthwhile acquisition.

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Berta Joncus