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Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745)
Missa Dei Patris ZWV 19 (1740)
Kyrie [8.45]
Gloria [19.41]
Credo [23.55]
Sanctus [7.90]
Agnus Dei [10.37]

Venceslava Hruba-Freiberger, soprano
René Jacobs, alto
Reinhart Ginzel, tenor
Olaf Bror, bass
Thüringischer Akademischer Singkreis, Wolfgang Unger
Virtuosi Saxoniae/ Ludwig Güttler
BERLIN CLASSICS BC 1078-2 [69.59]
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Jan Dismas Zelenka, born in 1679 in Bohemia, was educated by the Jesuits in Prague. He joined the Dresden court in 1710 as a double-bass player and died there, 35 years later, after becoming a composer of sacred music. During this time, he worked with kapellmeister Johann David Heinichen, and, after Heinichen's death in 1729, assumed responsibility for church music. This was, however, temporary, and he was replaced by Johann Adolf Hasse.

While Zelenka was roughly a contemporary of Bach, Vivaldi and Haendel, his music is not what is generally considered baroque. He was greatly influenced by Italian opera, very much in favour in the Dresden court. Many similarities can be heard between his works and those of Hasse, for example, who was a leading proponent of the opera seria. His late masses, including this one, show a strong resemblance to Hasse's works.

The Missa Dei Patris was composed for a small instrumental group - two violins, oboes, viola and basso continuo. Unlike Hasse's final mass, which was a large-scale work, this is an intimate piece. Yet, structurally and stylistically, there are many similarities. Like Hasse, Zelenka presents a more dramatic mass than baroque composers of the same period. The choral movements are more lively and energetic than those of other baroque composers. The first movement of the Kyrie, for example, opens with a lively, gay melody before the chorus enters and starts chanting the text. It almost sounds like a short opera overture, in its presentation of various musical themes. The Et resurrexit, part of the Credo, features the four soloists singing together with the chorus, and, when the soloists sing, their voices express a great deal of drama and emotion, but remain on a superficial, non-spiritual level.

Zelenka's arias also have the same almost Mozartian feel to them. Some of them achieve a more meditative effect, such as the Angus Dei I, sung by alto René Jacobs, which recalls some of Bach's arias in the passions. A slow, minimal, introspective orchestral accompaniment flows gently behind Jacobs' plaintive voice. The Benedictus aria, sung by Olaf Bror, even recalls the Papageno aria of Mozart's Magic Flute.

While the musicians and choir are excellent, the soloists seem a bit weak and uninvolved. Jacobs, in particular, is quite disappointing - his voice sounds unconvincing and unfocused.

Nevertheless, Zelenka manages to express a wide variety of musical styles in this work. This is an excellent recording of a composer whose work deserves greater attention. In spite of the weak soloists, this is a very agreeable recording musically.

Kirk McElhearn


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