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Jan Křtitel VAŇHAL (Johann Baptist WANHAL) (1739-1813)
Sacred Works (ed. Véra Štrynclová and Marek Štryncl)
Kyrie in G (1782) [9:30]
Aria – Huc adeste [6:15]
Gloria in G (1782) [25:14]
Aria in B – Semper quĉro [4:47]
Offertory in D – Jubilate, plausus date [8:25]
Motet in D – Tu TrinitatisAlleluia [7:10]
Alice Martini (soprano)
Sylva Čmugrová (mezzo)
Jaroslav Brezina (tenor)
Roman Janál (bass)
Czech Boys Choir Boni Pueri
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Marek Štryncl
rec. Chrudim, 2014. DDD
Premiere recordings.
Texts and translations included
ARCO DIVA UP0165-2 231 [61:44]

The record companies have done well recently by the Bohemian contemporaries of Haydn and Mozart.  I’m thinking of the Chandos recording of Vaňhal’s music on CHAN9607 and the four volumes of his symphonies and concertos with different orchestras on Naxos, but there are some surprising gaps.  There seem to be no currently available Supraphon recordings of their native composer’s work and very few on any label of his sacred music. Though he produced more Masses than Haydn and Mozart together, there seems to be only one recording of any of them in complete form in the catalogue (Naxos, see below) and everything on the new CD is receiving its first recording.

If you know Haydn’s Masses you will recognise a kinship of style in the opening Kyrie – hardly surprising when, known by the German version of his name, Wanhal, he played in a string quartet with Dittersdorf, Haydn and Mozart: some quartet that must have been.  There’s also a trace of a recognisably Bohemian style that is found to an even greater extent in the Missa Pastoralis (below).

One the subject of regionality I should mention that the Viennese pronounced – and still pronounce – their Latin with a hard German g in words such as such as magnam and unigenite and the Arco Diva team adhere to that German pronunciation.  Those accustomed to Italian pronunciation may find it a little hard to get used to, but it is more correct.

The Kyrie and Gloria are not part of a complete Mass setting but free-standing works.  The Gloria is longer than you would find in a Mass by Haydn or Mozart but it’s an impressive piece of music.  It’s complete on one track so not easy to spot-sample but the Propter magnam gloriam tuam would be a good section to try.

The Bohemian touch is emphasised by employing boy choristers in the choral items, sounding pure and child-like but not childish, even in the large-scale setting of the Gloria.   Their singing is attractive but subtly different from, say, the Vienna Boys’ Choir or an English cathedral choir.  The soloists also make an attractive team in the Gloria, fine voices blending well.  Even in the more competitive field of the Haydn and Mozart Masses I wouldn’t object to hearing these performers, but I also liked the fact that the bass adds a little hint of the simpler Bohemian style in the Domine Jesu Christe section.  If there is a slight weakness in the team, it’s the tenor who sometimes sounds a trifle laboured in Quoniam tu solus, but it’s not a serious problem.

Huc adeste is a display piece: sacred music in an operatic style not unlike Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate.  Short of having Emma Kirkby perform it – it would surely suit her well – Alice Martini sings it very attractively.  I haven’t heard her before but I hope to do so again.

In Semper quĉro Sylva Čmugrová exhibits a touch of mezzo plumminess at the beginning, but it’s not a serious problem and it seems to disappear as the aria progresses.

I’m not sure for what occasion the Offertory Jubilate, plausus date was composed – the notes are not specific about any of the items – but it’s another work that would not have put Haydn or Mozart to shame.  The same is true of the closing motet for Trinity Sunday, Tu Trinitatis, tu unitas, another sacred work in operatic style, this time offering a rare chance for a bass soloist to shine.  It even ends with an extended Alleluia like Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate.  What I described as Roman Janál’s simpler Bohemian manner in the Gloria, however, doesn’t serve the music quite so well this time: I would have welcomed something more operatic.

The recording is good, if a little unfocused in the large-scale works. Some sloppy editing of the booklet has switched the texts of Huc adeste and Semper quĉro.  It’s not too difficult to see what has happened but that makes the proof-reading all the more culpable.  A rhyming translation of Tu Trinitatis is given: it’s a paraphrase but it is remarkably close to the original Latin.  More seriously, the opening words are wrongly given in the track list: they should be Tu Trinitatis, tu unitas, not Tu Trinitatis orbem.  The text as sung and printed differs slightly from that usually given in the Tridentine breviary, adding the second tu and altering the usual orbem potenter qui regis – thou who rulest the world with might – by replacing the masculine qui with the feminine quĉ, both meaning ‘who’.

If you like this Arco Diva recording your next stop could be attractive performances of Vaňhal’s Missa Pastoralis in G and Missa Solemnis in C (Aradia Ensemble, Tower Voices/Uwe Grodd, Naxos 8.555080 – review).  As befits its title, the Missa Pastoralis is somewhat reminiscent of those Czech-language compositions which were sometimes performed at Christmas, such as that by Ryba from most of the same performers as on the new Vaňhal recording, on Arco Diva UP0142-2 (other recordings on Arco Diva UP0155-2, DG 4778365, Naxos 8.554428 and Supraphon SU36582).

With attractive music, all receiving its first outing on record, freshly edited from the Czech archives, mostly well performed and recorded, lovers of Haydn and Mozart should enjoy this ArcoDiva CD of music by a composer who performed string quartets with those luminaries.

Brian Wilson



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