This is Edinburgh-based award-winning Ensemble Marsyas’ debut recording for Linn, and contains three of Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka’s set of six trios for violin, two oboes, bassoon and continuo, played here on period instruments. These sonatas are noted for their technical demands for wind instruments, and from the outset it is easy to hear why. The opening Allegro
of the Sonata V in F Major
is an almost seven minute non-stop barrage of notes of remarkable intensity for the period – a very pleasant and amicable barrage, but a continuous onslaught none the less – a sort of Brandenburg Concerto for minimal forces.
Zelenka is a name perhaps not at the top of your Baroque composers list, but recordings are increasingly showing the range of his remarkable music, including a terrific Officium defunctorium
on the Accent label (see review
). It is in fact the Accent label which brings is our main competitor, with a 2CD complete set of the sonatas from 2005, ACC30048. Comparing that Sonata V
shows a lower tempo and a gentler feel to the recording in this Accent set, and timings are consistently though not always extremely longer, movement for movement. Set in a bigger acoustic and at a slightly more distant perspective, the complete set has a more genteel sensibility while Ensemble Marsyas is more direct and exciting – still refined and beautifully transparent of sound, but with greater impulse and energy. There’s a delicious descending chromatic scale from the flute in the final Allegro
of Sonata V
, and this is made much more of a feature on the Linn disc – listen at 1:29 and marvel, it’s a wee shocker.
Monica Huggett joins in with an expressive violin part in the four movement Sonata III in B-flat Major
, and her lines add an extra dimension to the winds in a piece which splits the programme nicely. The bassoon is put through its paces in the second movement Allegro
while the oboe and violin have a genteel conversation above. The third movement Largo
has a witty rhythmic tic, like Michael Palin’s not-silly-enough-for-a-government-grant silly walk, and the oboe glissando at the end is another naughty delight. The minor-key Sonata VI
is another superb piece, with the expressive lines and suspensions made the most of by the Marsysas oboes. The harpsichord is given a rest here, a theorbo adding depth and resonance, a small organ filling out harmonies almost as a kind of secret mission of goodwill. The final track is a recently discovered gift from Dresden, a set of parts from a Simphonie
already known from an autograph score from 1723, but as interpreted by a copyist. This is a lovely encore, once again with violin, and showing Zelenka delighting in the independence of instrumental sonorities and timbres, with only the final cadence leaving us in anticipation of another movement which never comes. With only 50 minutes on the clock I would argue a solution for this loose end of tonality might have been found without too much difficulty. Either way, anyone with an ounce of programming sensitivity would have placed it as a prelude to the Sonata V in F minor
which it fits perfectly, but this is a minor point. Just don’t expect to be able to rise from your bed and complete the cadence on the piano – the tuning here is A = 415 hz.
The recording of this Linn disc is very nicely balanced, with the harpsichord adding just the right amount of crisp rhythmic and harmonic support without being particularly high in the mix. The SACD effect adds more dimensions to the sound and shows up some of the lower level inner sounds more, but this is still a lovely recording in straight stereo. If you want the entire set of Zelenka’s sonatas then that Accent release is very good, but with all of those delightful details and a marvellous sense of expression and youthful freshness I prefer Ensemble Marsyas in a note-for-note comparison.