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Fanfare Magazine: 43:4 (03-04/2020) 
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Reviewer: Bertil van Boer

This is the third disc of the collection of Vespers Psalms by Jan Dismas Zelenka, all of which were gathered as part of cycle of these works by the composer himself about 1735 or so. As noted elsewhere in this issue (Psalmi Vespertini I), these works were part of a compendium that he created during his years as Kapellmeister at the Catholic Marienkirche in Dresden. He began his Inventarium of music in 1726, perhaps as a means of remembering his almost frenetic creativity as a composer of sacred music since his days in Bohemia. Herein he entered works in a continuous stream, eventually including some 30 Masses and many Mass movements, three Lamentations, five Requiems, and almost 200 other works of sacred music. This set of works, unlike those of the Psalmi Vespertini, seems to have been a miscellaneous collection with no unifying thread, and therefore it is unknown why he put them together, save that they are meant for Vespers on Sunday.

Among the works on this disc are four that are receiving their modern premieres. The first of these opens the recording: the Lauda Jerusalem, with its swirling string accompaniment and solid choral work, with just a hint of imitation. The second is the De profundis clamavi, which is slow, sonorous, and with a lovely solemnity that allows both the choral portions and the soloists to blend easily. This is followed by the Dixit Dominus, a short choral explosion of full-bodied orchestral and choral sound in which the voices are energetic and joyous above a relentless walking bass. The fourth is a short chorus, Ecce nunc benedicite, which is surprisingly modern, with good harmony and full textures, as well as a brief interlude with the solo voices in a more strict style.

For the remainder, one great piece follows the next. The bouncy Laudate pueri has a duet between solo clarino and tenor that is a bit Handelian right up to the point where both are pushed to the extremes of their registers in the opening aria. This demonstrates the high ability of Zelenka’s performers in Dresden. A lengthy and quite pensive aria (Quis sicut Dominus) follows, in which the mood alters abruptly and the walking bass provides a steady rhythmic foundation above which the strings and tenor float lyrically. The “Amen” is, as one might expect, is buoyant and free, with swirling trumpet lines intersecting with the challenging coloratura of the tenor. Here, tenor Tobias Hunger handles the difficult passages with considerable skill and ease. The two settings of the Confitebor tibi Domine are quite different in musical content. The first (ZWV 71) is more thoughtful, with the opening aria of the two movements almost like it could have been written for a Bach oratorio, while the second (Memoriam fecit) sounds like Telemann with its cantus firmus bass solo above a rapidly running bass line and the ritornello violins in unison. The second, a choral work (ZWV 73), is faster, with a tune that sounds like it was based on a Czech folk song. Here all four vocal soloists have their momentary commentary, but is the effusive choral portions that stand out. The Laetatus sum is cantata-like in its multiple movements, each of which paints a miniature musical portrait. The opening seems like it could have been written by C. P. E. Bach, so galant is it in the juxtaposition of duple and triple rhythms. Here one has a quavering soprano and alto duet at the beginning, and in the second movement the music turns Vivaldian with swirling string lines. The soprano reaches high into her range, making her part more operatic. This piece concludes with the doxology in two parts, the first suspensive and solemn, concluding with a rollicking duet.

The performance standards of this disc are universally excellent, as with the two others. The vocal soloists know their stuff in the particularly tortuous parts, and what is more is that they are in tune and handle the various coloratura with the same alacrity that also pervades the close harmonies elsewhere in slower sections. The chorus is smaller, but still has a large sound. Their diction is clear and precise, matching the wonderful ensemble playing of the Prague Baroque Soloists. These are clear, and the wonderfully rustic continuo, which is often forced to be both energetic and steady, cannot be beat. This is one fine disc and a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. It shows Zelenka to have well deserved his fine reputation as one of the best composers of the age.


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