Zelenka Sonatas

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ALBUM TITLE: Zelenka Sonatas
WORKS: Sonatas: No. 5 in F; No. 3 in B flat; Andante from Simphonie à 8 Concertanti in A minor
PERFORMER: Ensemble Mrsyas/Monica Huggett


The Baroque oboe and bassoon inspired the great Czech composer Zelenka. This disc reminds us why, nudging aside rival recordings by virtue of its charm. We are led from Zelenka’s boldly Vivaldian Sonata No. 5 – heart-rending lyricism encased by crisp outer movements – into the ingenuity of his four-part counterpoint in Sonatas Nos 3 and 6. The Ensemble Marsyas impresses me with their nimble fingers in the breakneck Sonata No. 5, but it’s the group’s nuance that’s transfixing. When textures become sparse, delivery intensifies; when the line expands, the tempo stretches; when counterpoint thickens, articulation is leavened. The players are audibly intelligent, at once humorous and illuminating. Non-interventionist engineering shows that less can be more when the artists are first rate.

Also striking is how the wind players draw guest violinist Monica Huggett into their idioms. While maintaining her hallmark precision, Huggett joins their swells during sustained notes, hesitates tenderly with them before resolutions, and shares their emphases on the sometimes bizarre modulations. The recording’s climax is the subtle transformation of the minuet in Sonata No. 6 into a zany gambol Zelenka and the players combine wit, taste and an earthy Bohemian wink to win the heart.


Berta Joncus