If you’ve ever wondered what the music of Prague sounded like
in Bach’s time, Supraphon’s brand-new series of “Music from
Eighteenth-Century Prague” is just the ticket. Even if you hadn’t
given the idea much consideration, though, please do: Antonín
Reichenauer turns out to be a composer of wholly enjoyable,
well-crafted music with decided Italianate influences, and the
production here is first-rate.
Reichenauer (d. 1730; birth year is unclear) was a court musician
and then court composer to Count Wenzel Morzin, a local nobleman
whose tastes leaned southwards to the Italian concerto style.
In fact, Morzin was the dedicatee of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons!
By the time Antonín Reichenauer assumed the composer-in-residence
position with Morzin’s band, he would have performed in all
of the Vivaldi Op 8 concertos, as well as a good deal more by
the Venetian, since Vivaldi had been appointed as Morzin’s “Maestro
di Musica in Italia”. The influence here shows, both in the
choice of solo instruments - Vivaldi’s dozens of bassoon concertos
clearly inspire the four concertante works on this CD with bassoon
soloist - and in general style: snappy, appealing tunes, soulful
adagios bookended by sprightly quick movements, excellent dialogue
between soloists and ensemble.
None of the six works here lasts longer than fifteen minutes,
and only two top 12:00, but they benefit from the conciseness,
staying perpetually fresh. The two bassoon concertos are notable
for the Vivaldi influence and the C major work’s marvelous adagio;
we also have a concerto and an overture, both in B flat, for
oboe, bassoon, and strings (the overture adds a second oboist).
These are pleasingly well-done with fine exchanges between the
wind players; the overture’s first movement is the most substantial
musical work on the disc, to fine effect, alternating rather
wittily between a stately episode and much livelier companion
material. The C minor violin concerto is excellent: the violinist
receives a melancholy opening tune accompanied by surprisingly
active cellos, and performer Lenka Torgersen adds highly effective
portamenti and ornamentations. Xenia Löffler’s oboe turns a
bit sour at the end of her concerto’s first movement, but that’s
a minor blemish on a work where the bassoon makes an unexpected
reappearance for a slow-movement duet.
All this is a serious academic undertaking by performers and
label; harpsichordist-director Václav Luks is one of three researchers
who have transcribed the concertos from the manuscripts, which
had to be found in various collections across Europe - the violin
concerto bears no composer’s name, but is on paper identical
to the other extant Reichenauer manuscripts. Their work, part
of Supraphon’s ongoing project, is really beyond reproach, especially
with such lively performances — certainly the adjective “academic”
cannot be used in its pejorative sense.
The playing is exemplary, as Collegium 1704 are a characterful,
always attractive period ensemble of modest size but considerable
prowess; you’ll know this if you’ve heard their stunning Zelenka
Missa votiva. A theorbo adds character to the bass parts
and keyboardist Luks wheels out a small organ for the violin
and G minor bassoon concertos. The three soloists — Sergio Azzolini
on bassoon, Xenia Löffler on oboe, and Lenka Torgersen on violin
— are superb; I would usually try to single one of them out
for special praise, but it is hard to do so when all three are
so deserving. Marvelous sound and a good booklet read seal the
deal. Baroque enthusiasts will love this.