Jan Zelenka and and
Johann Pisendel were contemporaries
of Bach, and each of them enjoyed notable
careers and contributed music of lasting
value to the legacy of the baroque era.
The skilfully performed compositions
collected on this disc from Deutsche
Harmonia Mundi therefore make most welcome
additions to the catalogue.
from Bohemia, and after beginning his
career in Prague moved to become a double
bass player (and composer) in the royal
ensemble at Dresden. His years of study
took in visits to both Vienna and Venice,
making him well aware of current musical
trends. In due course his career brought
him back to Prague. His entry in Grove
proclaims that his music ‘is notable
for its adventurousness, its contrapuntal
mastery and its harmonic invention’.
The titles of the three
pieces gathered here confirm Zelenka’s
interest in contrapuntal procedures,
since the number of parts among the
ensemble is given a high priority. Herein
lie the contrasts and interest of the
music, rather than in the more popular
function of solo and tutti concerto
writing. The music repays careful attention,
particularly in the extended Simphonie
à 8 Concertanti which has
some music that develops on an ambitious
scale, not least the opening movement,
taken here at a sensibly shaped Allegro
tempo (Zelenka left no tempo
one of the foremost violinists of his
day, and the D major solo concerto must
have been intended as a vehicle for
his artistry. He worked at Dresden from
as early as 1712, and must have been
well established there by the time of
Zelenka’s arrival in the city. However,
his position as concert master was not
confirmed until 1730, and it is a reflection
of the esteem in which he was held that
his contractual duties left him time
to tour widely around the German states.
Pisendel is heard to
excellent effect in this concerto, which
unusually for its time mixes wind and
brass instruments among the orchestral
ensemble in a baroque violin concerto.
The results are satisfying because the
timbres and balances are so well judged.
This is itself a tribute to the Freiburg
Baroque Orchestra, of course, whose
director Gottfried von der Goltz is
a reliable judge of phrasing and tempi.
The sound is clear
and nicely atmospheric, although violin
tone might become a little wearing on
the ear if the whole programme is sampled
in a single sitting. Better to take
the music one piece at a time.
With thorough and well
presented documentation, this disc does
good service to two composers whose
music deserves wider recognition.