ZELENKA: Sonata V in F, ZWV 181/5; Sonata III in B-flat, ZWV 181/3; Sonata VI in C, ZWV 181/6; Andante from Symphony a 8 Concertanti in a, ZWV 189 – Monica Huggett, violin/ Ensemble Marsyas – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 415, 49:43 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
This is a frustrating, odd, and tantalizing release. Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) was Bohemian by birth and Dresdener by resident and reputation. Indeed, Dresden was a noted musical center not only for its instrumental and choral forces (Johann David Heinichen occupied the Kapellmeister position before Zelenka applied for it) but also for the brilliance of the consequent music influenced by the presence of such great virtuosos. And make no mistake, the three sonatas on this disc, two for two oboes and bassoons plus continuo, and one for oboe, violin, and bassoon (the only such instance in the set of six) are virtuosic to an extreme degree.
Zelenka, when freed from his multitudinous duties that required a lot of church and other sacred compositions (of high skill and enormous craft) really let loose when turning to purely instrumental work. Here he was able to demonstrate his abilities to an extreme degree, and his strong melodies and firmly consistent harmonic enterprises were among the best of any composer in Europe at the time. There is no hesitancy in Zelenka’s writing—this is some of the most assured and logical music you will encounter by anyone of that age, and I mean anyone. The only sad thing is that there is not more of it. But all here is sparkling, engaging, and played to the hilt by these superb musicians. Chamber music like this is a rare experience.
And so is this type of program. Linn only gives us 50 minutes of music (which includes an arrangement of the second movement of Zelenka’s Sinfonie, and it leaves us hanging on the unresolved dominant—record over!) when one or even two more of the sonatas could have been included (is there a volume 2 coming?). And strangest of all, nowhere on the disc or in the notes is it indicated that this is not a CD, but an SACD! You heard it here first. Why this is not noted is a mystery—are they trying to garner more sales by removing it from the specialist market? What gives (though it is in a rounded SACD jewel box)? Odd indeed…[Of course it is a hybrid, with a standard CD layer. We got another one from Linn the same way…Ed.]
Despite the marketing misinformation this disc remains a brilliant one both for playing and for repertory, and the SACD sound is vivid and well-balanced. It’s the type of album that fills nice gaps in collections and entices one to expand horizons. Zelenka is definitely one to watch out for. But next time, more music, and dare I say, honesty.
Verve/Universal Music Group a newly discovered live album by Nina Simone.