Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745)
Sonatas (c.1722/3)
Sonata No.V in F, ZWV181/5[16:14]
Sonata No.III in B-flat, ZWV181/3 [15:11]
Sonata No.VI in c minor ZWV181/6 [14:52]
Andante fromSimphonie à 8 Concertanti in a minor, ZWV189 [2:58]
Ensemble Marsyas (Josep Domènech Lafont, Molly Marsh (oboe); Peter Whelan (bassoon); Thomas Dunford (theorbo); Philippe Grisvard (harpsichord/organ); Christine Sticher (violone)) with Monica Huggett (violin)
rec. National Centre for Early Music, York, UK, 4-6 August 2011. DSD
Dominy Clements has already reviewed this recording - here - and it has also received high praise in other quarters, so I can be quite brief.
The only instrumental music by Zelenka that I’d encountered previously to this recording comes on an elderly Teldec CD from the Concentus Musicus Wien and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, now on 2564697648. The best known music on that CD is the oddly named Hipondrie - yes, it does mean hypochondria, but no-one seems to know why it’s so called - and it’s the name that has probably maintained that work in the repertoire, together, perhaps, with the fact that apart from Zemlinsky the composer is just about the last in alphabetical order.
That doesn’t mean that the music is not worth hearing - far from it; though it’s good second-rate rather than first-rate.
The Harnoncourt recording contains an account of the Sonata in g minor, ZWV181/2 for two oboes, bassoon and continuo, so it’s complementary to the new Linn which contains three other sonatas from that series. These works are witty, enjoyable, enterprising and challenging and they receive performances here at least as good as from Concentus Musicus, with the same blend of scholarship (pitch = 415Hz and Silbermann II temperament) and musicality that the older recording displays, together with the fruits of more modern scholarship.
Indeed, having been recorded at the York Early Music Festival, they seem to have captured some of the magic which surrounds that event. I hadn’t encountered Ensemble Marsyas before. Their namesake challenged Apollo to a musical contest, which is pretty apt as an indication of the high calibre of their playing, but I hope that they don’t share his fate of being flayed alive for his impertinence - not for nothing does Apollo’s name derive from the Greek verb to destroy.
With excellent recording - I’ve listened to both the SACD and 24/96 download - and a booklet of notes that wouldn’t shame even Hyperion, I have only one grumble. I refrained from complaining about the short playing time on the second CD when I reviewed the Accent recording of Zelenka’s funeral music (see below) on the grounds that any fill-up would have seemed irrelevant, but that doesn’t prevent my pointing out that 50 minutes on the new Linn recording is very short value when we could have been given more of the sonatas from ZWV181.
For those seeking more Zelenka, Hyperion have two very worthwhile recordings of his sacred music:
- Lamentations (CDH55106) - see March 2010 Roundup
- Litaniæ de venerabili altaris sacramento, etc. (CDH55424) - see January 2012/1 Roundup
and there’s the Offficium defunctorum and Requiem on Accent (ACC24244) - also January 2012/1 Roundup.
Dominy Clements compared the new Linn recordings with those on a complete set on Accent ACC30048 and preferred the Marsyas Ensemble. I haven’t yet heard the Accent recordings but I hope to visit them for a future Download News - you can try them for yourself if you have access to the Naxos Music Library. I doubt if they offer much if any improvement over the performances and recording on the Linn release. This is good second-rate music made to sound almost first-rate by these performances. We should also recall that short playing time but even the Accent set is not over-generous, with 111 minutes spread over two discs.
Brian Wilson 

Good second-rate music made to sound almost first-rate by these performances. 

see also review by Dominy Clements 

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