Bach, Zelenka and Lotti on one disc - that seems a little odd.
Bach and Zelenka knew each other as they lived and worked not
that far away from each other, in Leipzig and Dresden respectively.
But what about Lotti?
Antonio Lotti made his career in Venice, but was born in Hanover
where his father was Kapellmeister
. In Venice he became
a pupil of Legrenzi. He started out as an alto singer and organist
in San Marco. In 1693 he wrote his first opera, and his growing
reputation as an opera composer brought him the invitation to
write an opera for Dresden. Here he lived and worked from 1717
to 1719. He wasn't only an opera composer, though. When he came
to Dresden he took with him some religious works he had written
in Venice, and in Dresden he composed some more.
Zelenka, who for many years worked in the court orchestra in Dresden
as double-bass player, copied a number of works by Lotti. Among
them was the Missa Sapientiae
; a copy of this mass has
also been found in Bach's library. It is quite possible that it
was through Zelenka that Bach became acquainted with Lotti's oeuvre.
Thomas Hengelbrock recorded Lotti's Missa Sapientiae
2002, and it was released together with Bach's Magnificat
by deutsche harmonia mundi.
But there are not only historical reasons bringing together these
composers on one disc. There are also some stylistic similarities
between the three compositions which Thomas Hengelbrock has recorded.
The main feature they have in common is that they contain both
traditional and modern elements. They link with the traditional
in that they include polyphonic sections.
And in all three pieces dissonances and chromaticism are used
for expressive reasons linking with the sung words. At the same
time they contain elements which reflect contemporary fashion.
Zelenka's setting of the penitential Psalm 50 (51), 'Miserere
mei Deus', is a perfect example of the mixture of old and new.
It starts with an extended setting of the first verse of this
psalm, which is dominated by chords in the strings in a very agitated
rhythm, which are relentlessly repeated. The amount of dissonance
in this section is quite unusual for the time. Next the text of
the whole psalm is sung in a strict polyphonic style. It is based
on an organ ricercar by Girolamo Frescobaldi, from his 'Fiori
Musicali' of 1635. It is likely this was the main reason that
this Miserere was received negatively. A diary of the time says:
"Mr. Zelenka performed a Miserere of excessive length". It is
probably not the actual time the performance took that caused
this comment but rather its old-fashioned style. For a performance
in the following year Zelenka added an aria for soprano which
was written in modern galant
style. This is the third movement,
the first half of the doxology. This part is then set again for
the tutti, and this is followed by the second half of the doxology.
Then Zelenka returns to the opening verse. It is not a repetition
of the first section, although elements from it are reused.
The Balthasar-Neumann-Choir and -Ensemble give good performances,
in which the text expression comes off very well. It is disappointing,
though, that the dense polyphonic texture of the second section
results in the words being practically inaudible. More attention
should have been given to a clear delivery of the text. Tanya
Aspelmeier gives a good account of the solo part.
The cantata 'Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen' is one of Bach's most
famous cantatas. It inspired Franz Liszt to one of his best-known
organ works. It seems Bach also liked it: he composed the cantata
in 1714 in Weimar, and performed it again in 1724 in Leipzig.
The mood of the work is best caught in the accompanied recitative,
a quotation from the Bible (Acts of the Apostles): "We must pass
through great sadness that we come into God's kingdom".
The cantata begins with an expressive sinfonia, marked 'adagio
assai'. The opening chorus has a dacapo form, and the A section
is a chaconne over a chromatic bass which is repeated twelve times.
It is here that the tradition comes to the fore, as well as in
the scoring with two independent viola parts. The B section doesn't
contain independent instrumental parts: the instruments are supposed
to play colla parte
with the voices - another feature of
the stile antico
Much more in line with the fashion of the time is the inclusion
of a dacapo aria, 'Kreuz und Kronen sind verbunden', scored for
alto, with an obbligato part for the oboe. In the tenor aria 'Seid
getrost', the slide trumpet plays the melody of the chorale 'Jesu,
meine Freude'. The German Bach scholar Alfred Dürr suggests
Bach could have had the last stanza in mind: "Begone, mournful
spirits, for the master of my joys, Jesus, is now arriving".
The tutti parts receive good performances from the choir and the
orchestra. None of Bach’s expressive devices passes unnoticed.
The rhythm of the bass aria 'Ich folge Christo nach' is under-exposed,
though. The contralto Marion Eckstein sings her part beautifully,
and so does the tenor Julian Podger, although in his aria I would
have liked stronger contrast between the A and B sections. The
bass Marek Rzepka is a bit bland, and there is a slight tremolo
in his voice which I have noticed in other recordings in which
he participated. The obbligato parts are well executed by Emma
Black (oboe) and Paolo Bacchin (slide trumpet).
Old and new elements are also present in Antonio Lotti's Missa
a tre cori
, written for three groups, as the title indicates.
This mass belongs to the genre of the 'missa brevis', consisting
of Kyrie and Gloria only. The stile antico
present in the Kyrie
and returns in some sections of the
The first Kyrie
is very reminiscent of the opening of Zelenka's
, in particular harmonically. Even rhythmically
there is some similarity, although Lotti's rhythms are less agitated.
In the Christe eleison
the name 'Christe' is singled out.
The second Kyrie
contrasts the descending line and an ascending
figure on the words "eleison" in the upper voices.
begins with a dancing movement in jubilant mood,
in which the trumpet participates. The next section, 'Et in terra
pax', takes more than five minutes and reverts to the same kind
of chords in the strings and strong dissonances we heard in the
. The 'Gratias agimus' also begins with great
harmonic tension which is then released in the second half. In
'Qui tollis peccata mundi' Lotti again makes use of fiery chords
and sharp dissonances.
The most modern sections are 'Domine Deus' and 'Qui sedes'. The
former is a wonderful trio for soprano, violin and basso continuo.
'Qui sedes' is scored for alto and obbligato oboe, with the lower
strings and basso continuo. In 'Quoniam tu solus sanctus' the
trumpet returns. Through homophony and long notes the name 'Jesu
Christe' is singled out. The mass ends with a fugal section on
the text 'Cum Sancto Spiritu'.
This is probably the very first recording of this mass, and it
is a beautiful and highly expressive work. It is easy to understand
that Zelenka and Bach were interested in Lotti's music, and in
particular Zelenka seems to have been influenced by Lotti. The
qualities of Lotti's mass setting are fully explored by choir
and orchestra, with excellent contributions of the vocal and instrumental
soloists. Only Bernard Landauer is a little disappointing in 'Qui
Unearthing unknown masterworks is something of a speciality for
Thomas Hengelbrock. Both Lotti's Missa Sapientiae
Missa a tre cori
are masterpieces - evidence that Lotti's
oeuvre is well worth further appraisal. Bach's cantata is available
in a number of other recordings. The performance on this disc
is good, but not the main reason to commend this CD.
It is both Lotti's mass and the Miserere
by Zelenka which
make this disc especially attractive. The Zelenka has been recorded
before, and some time ago I reviewed
by Penelope Rapson. But Hengelbrock's interpretation
is simply superior, and in fact it is hard to imagine a more intense
interpretation of Zelenka's Miserere
Johan van Veen
Three compositions with various stylistic similarities - the Lotti
and Zelenka receive expressive performances ... see Full Review