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GRAMOPHONE (04/2016)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Following Heinichen’s death his duties for the Dresden royal chapel were carried out by the Bohemian-born Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), who had been employed at the court as a violone player since about 1710. His hopes to succeed Heinichen officially led to a petition to the new elector Friedrich August II in November 1733, only a few weeks after he had composed a collection of eight Italian arias. Dedicated to the new elector, these were probably designed to demonstrate that Zelenka was capable of writing operatic-style arias despite having very little experience setting the Italian language to music. In the event, the post was given instead to Hasse, whereas the long-serving Zelenka was promoted merely to the rank of Hofkomponist.


The clever fusion of contrapuntal fourpart strings and vocal virtuosity in these lengthy arias reveals his customarily quirky imagination. The plangent qualities of Hana BlaΩíková are beguiling in the lion’s share of the arias: the melancholic melodiousness of ‘Povera fede sei pur mal spesa’ shows Zelenka’s style to be close to the Venetians of 20 years previously, the arching phrases of ‘Se ha per guida la costanza’ were modelled directly on an old opera aria by the Viennese Kapellmeister Fux, and there is livelier florid passagework aplenty in ‘Senti ti voglio ancor’. Markéta Cukrová’s unforced alto voice shines in two rapturous arias, such as the softly lyrical ‘Non só se piů vi rivedrň’. The final aria ‘Son da piů venti’ is sung suavely by bass Tomá≈ Šelc. The six instrumentalists of Ensemble Tourbillon, directed by gambist Petr Wagner, support the singers with finesse. These eight arias are probably not the most accomplished music Zelenka wrote but they provide another glimpse into the rich musical culture of Dresden’s golden age.


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