This disc belongs to Suprahon’s "Music from
eighteenth-century Prague" series. The repertoire, performed
in Prague during the first half of the eighteenth century, is
I doubt that many music-lovers will have heard of Václav
Gunter Jacob. As so often there is a strong discrepancy between
his fame in his own time and his obscurity today.
Jacob was born in the village Krajková, then a mining
town called Gossengrün, near Sokolov. In his childhood he
sang as a treble at the Kladruby Monastery and later as an alto
at the Benedictine Monastery by the St Nicholas Church on Old
Town Square in Prague. At an early age he showed interest in
becoming a composer, writing his first mass when he was 16 years
old. It was full of errors, as he had never received any composition
lessons, but he continued to compose religious pieces which so
much impressed the monastery's abbot that he promised to support
his future education in music. For a while he studied law but
soon turned to music completely.
He entered the monastery he had left and was ordained a priest
in 1714. Because of gout and the plague - from which he recovered
- he had to struggle with poor health all his life. That didn't
prevent him from further developing his skills as a composer.
His first collection of music was printed in 1714 and brought
him some fame, also outside his homeland. In 1725 a collection
of sacred music was published in Nuremberg. Copies of Jacob's
printed music have been found in several places in Europe, among
others in Munich and Bologna. The dissemination of his music
led to commissions from Poland, Bavaria and Hungary. Although
his formal education was limited he not only became famous as
a composer but was also active as a teacher. One of his pupils
was Frantisek (or Franz) Benda.
The disc begins with a setting of Psalm 109 (110), Dixit Dominus
It is taken from Jacob's first collection of music of 1714, and
considering the year of printing the prominent role of the two
horns is remarkable. They are used to great effect in the third
section, 'Virgam virtutis' and in the seventh, 'Judicabit'. Here
the words "dominare" (rule) and "conquassabit" (crush)
are especially singled out. There are other eloquent illustrations
of the text as well. The Psalm ends with a fugal 'Amen'.
The main work on this disc is the Missa Dei Filii
contains only the Ordinary: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and
Agnus Dei. But in this recording two parts of the Propers have
been added. As Graduale we hear a violin concerto by Valentin
Rathgeber and as Offertory a piece that Jacob wrote for the feast
of St Adalbert, one of the Czech patron saints.
The Kyrie is in three sections. The first Kyrie begins with a
dialogue between the high and the low voices of the tutti, then
between the soprano and alto soloists and the strings. The end
of this section is set for the tutti, with a dissonant on "eleison".
The Christe eleison is a beautiful solo for soprano with strings
and basso continuo. The concluding Kyrie is a fugal movement.
In the Gloria the 'Laudamus te' is a duet for soprano and alto,
followed by a tutti section on "Gratias". 'Domine Deus'
is a solo for the tenor in which the bass of the instrumental
ensemble is given much weight. 'Qui tollis' begins as a solo
for the bass, who is then joined by the three other solo voices
and then by the tutti. The word "miserere" is emphasized
through harmony. 'Quoniam' is a duet for soprano and bass; the
former has a steep ascending figure on "Jesu". The
'Credo' is characterised by ascending and descending figures
on words like "descendit de coelis", "crucifixus" and "passus".
The bass solo in the 'Crucifixus' section is particularly expressive.
The bass also sings the Benedictus, whereas the Sanctus is set
for the tutti. Notable is the Hosanna: it is largely fugal and
begins with three solo voices (soprano, alto, tenor), first with
only basso continuo. They are then joined by the strings, and
then the tutti come in. It is one of the most expressive parts
of this Mass.
The same kind of evolution takes place in the Agnus Dei: the
first Agnus is a solo for soprano, the second is a tenor solo,
the third is then set for the tutti after which a fugal 'Dona
nobis pacem' closes the Mass.
In the Offertory the strings are joined by the two horns again.
It starts with a vivacious instrumental introduction, followed
by a section for the tutti. Next follows a beautiful aria for
soprano with an obbligato part for the oboe. The piece ends with
This disc also contains three instrumental pieces by Valentin
Rathgeber. He was a German composer who has mainly become known
because of his 'Tafel-Confect', a series of three collections
with popular songs, but he also was very influential as a composer
of religious music; a genre especially popular in southern Germany.
The two concertos from his opus 19 are rather short, but delightful
and well-written. The violin concerto is also pretty short, but
the part of the solo violin - only in the two fast movements
- isn't without substance. The three pieces are very well played
by the instrumentalists of the Capella Regia Praha and Daniel
Deuter gives a good account of the solo violin part. The horn
players should be particularly complimented as they give brilliant
performances. And it is very nice that they are so clearly audible
as the horn parts are essential in expressing key elements in
This is only an indication of the general level of the performances
on this disc. I think this ensemble is probably the best ensemble
in the Czech early music scene. I have heard other recordings
under Robert Hugo's direction before, and these were all excellent.
This disc is no exception.
The vocal ensemble consists of twelve singers who also take the
solo parts. The blending of the voices as well as the balance
between the vocal groups is very good and there is also a great
transparency of the sound of the ensemble. The solo parts are
all given splendid performances, and it is just a joy to hear
these people sing with so much commitment and technical assurance.
And it is all for a worthy cause. I was really struck by the
beauty of Jacob's music and I am very curious to hear more. This
disc fully deserves to be nominated 'Recording of the Month'
as both music and interpretation are of a very high standard.
Johan van Veen