FrantiŠek JIRÁNEK (1698-1778)
Concerto in G for bassoon, strings and continuo [13:26]
Concerto in G major for flute, strings and continuo [10:56]
Sinfonia in D major [7:34]
Concerto in F major for bassoon, strings and continuo [9:39]
Concerto in D minor for violin, strings and continuo [15:53]
Sinfonia in F major [9:38]
Sergio Azzolini (bassoon), Marina Katazhnova (violin), Jana Semerádová (flute)
Collegium Marianum/Jana Semerádová
rec. July 2010, Church of Our Lady, Queen of Angels, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU 4039-2 [66:50]

Eyes attuned to the geographical centre of Europe may have noticed that Supraphon has embarked on an exciting new series devoted to ‘Music from Eighteenth Century Prague’. In truth this company has always given time to exploring Bohemian, and to a lesser extent, Moravian music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This latest development, with fine booklet artwork and high production values will interest many, I’m sure. Brentner, Jacob and Reichenauer are just three of the names in their opening salvo, and they will be unfamiliar to many, if not most: they certainly were to me. To this trio we can now add FrantiŠek Jiránek, who at least sports an authentically Czech name, and not one that was Germanised, or Italianated, as was so often the fashion of the time.

Jiránek was born in 1698 on the estate of the Morzin family, aristocrats of considerable means. His early years are unknown but by the 1720s and 1730s he was working at the court of Count Wenzel Morzin, a splendid, if grandiloquent portrait of whom, by an unknown artist, adorns one of the pages of the booklet. The court was in Prague’s Lesser Town. Between 1724 and 1726 Morzin sent the young composer to Venice to study. It’s believed, but there seems no direct evidence other than a suggestive payment of 400 florins, that he studied with Vivaldi. On his return Jiránek played in the Count’s orchestra but when it was disbanded, on Morin’s death, the budding composer travelled to Dresden, where he died nearly forty years later, having risen to become a distinguished member of the band of Heinrich von Brühl.

Only thirty of his compositions have survived, suggesting an element of the instrumentalist-composer, rather than composer-composer. In this disc we have two concertos for bassoon, one for flute, and one for violin. There are also two Sinfonias.

The G minor bassoon concerto attests to the remarkable standards of the Dresden court orchestra. The articulation of the intended player must have been virtuosic in the extreme if this and the F major companion concerto are any index of the technical demands routinely met at the time. The interesting, wandering melody line on the slow movement of the G minor, with its delicate supportive string tissue, is most interesting, whilst the repeated scales in the finale offer a fillip of triumph for the performer. The F major explores rather more the inherent pawkiness of the bassoon’s tonal qualities with hugely attractive little jumps, fast runs and registral changes to the fore in the opening movement. The brief Adagio is rather desolate, with repeated orchestral figures against which the soloist spins his lyric line. This, I think, is the heart of Jiránek’s compositional gift – a concise, rather melancholy, distillation of the lyric qualities imparted to him by Vivaldi.

The Flute Concerto is, by contrast, nimble and genial, and lightly orchestrated. Once more his gift for lyric compression can be heard in the slow movement, and I particularly like the way in which the bass line is sprung in the concerto’s finale – something Collegium Marianum take great pleasure in doing. The Violin Concerto is perhaps less successful, principally because it strives for more. The intention seems to be for a more public and virtuosic extrovert virtuosity but the music feels a touch crabbed, indeed forced. The most interesting of the three movements is the finale when the music suddenly wakes up. There is nothing in the documentation to indicate whether the cadenza is notated, or has been interpolated by an editor or indeed by the soloist, Marina Katazhnova.

The Sinfonias vary in quality. The finer of the two is the D major which again evinces a strong lyrical gift. The F major is rather stolid.

Collegium Marianum is an original instrument band and plays crisply and with considerable attention to detail. The most arresting soloist is the brilliantly agile bassoonist Sergio Azzolini, whose ‘lowing calf’ tone is agreeably diverting, but all play with intelligence and discretion. The recording is good too – the microphones sufficiently close-up to catch detail but not to get swamped by the church acoustic.

These undated works reflect the high standards of little known instrumentalist-composers working in Prague, Dresden and beyond. The concertos are all decidedly attractive discoveries and are all well laid out for the band and soloists, written from the inside out by a working practitioner with a strong and distinct Italianate lyric gift.

Jonathan Woolf

Decidedly attractive discoveries with a strong and distinct Italianate lyric gift.