BAROQUE IN PRAGUE|
Choral, instrumental and organ music
Milan Slechta, organ
The Prague Choral Society,
Instrumental Soloists & Brass Ensemble
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Bohuslav Matej Cernohorsky (1684-1742):
14. Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745): Amen from the Magnificat of 1725
Total Time: 76:45
This is an outstanding disc! It serves as an admirable introduction for those who are not familiar with Bohemian (Czech) Baroque music - which is admittedly slightly "off the beaten track" of European Baroque. And it is an introduction which will prove highly rewarding.
There are two surprises for the uninitiated. The first surprise is that Czech baroque was a late finisher - some of the composer dates would frighten any dedicated baroque listener away - surely anyone born in the 1730s must produce music more like CPE Bach than JS, more like Mozart than Vivaldi. But no. There is nothing on this disc that might not have been composed in the early 1700s.
The second surprise is the unique quality of this music. It could only be Bohemian, for it is nothing like either German or Italian. The strange twists of modulation, the unusual - and powerful - harmonies bring a unique quality to music which is otherwise fully baroque, with all the features of counterpoint and choral harmony which one would expect from a Bach or a Vivaldi.
We begin our disc with a selection of organ works, by two important Czech composers, Jan Zach and Josef Seger. Seger's Fugue in f-minor (Track 2), written in 1757, a black period when the Prussians were laying siege to Prague, holds a special place among his organ fugues. The anxiety-laden theme is worked out in masterly fashion with a unique intensity and conviction of style and form, modulating in surprising twists and turns, and exploring harmonies which are uniquely Czech.
Next we move on to Frantisek Xavier Brixi, whose many works might be said to bridge the gap between baroque ad early rococo, as exemplified by his pure-baroque organ Toccata & Fugue, contrasted with the slightly more rococo Organ Concerto - a lively and cheerful piece indeed.
Our "second half" offers a choral and organ program of music by Cernohorsky, known with some justification as the "Bohemian Bach". His organ works would certainly have impressed JSB, serious and well worked as they are. Cernohorsky's choral works on the other hand, remind a little of Vivaldi, his Gloria RV 589 for example. In fact Cernohorsky spent much of his life in Italy, returning to Prague from 1720 to 1731 to run a highly acclaimed school of counterpoint which influenced several important Czech composers represented on our disc as well as a number of musicians from other countries including Tartini and Gluck.
His magnificent choral fugue, "Laudeatur Jesus Christus", is indisputable evidence of a musician of tremendous creative vitality with an absolute mastery of counterpoint. In contrast, his motet in honour of St Stephen who was stoned by the Jews as he prayed to Christ, "Quem Lapidaverunt Judiae Orantem" is an exceptional piece of descriptive writing in which the almost brutal fugal treatment dramatically conveys the reigning down of stones upon the martyr. The choral pieces, performed by a full four-part choir accompanied by strings and brass, are recorded in a fine acoustic, spacious, yet affording total contrapuntal clarity. Likewise the organ pieces, performed not on a chamber organ but a full-sized historic instrument, are recorded with spaciousness yet full clarity. The organist is not afraid to "pull out all the stops".
We end our disk with a grand six-part "Amen" by Zelenka, composer at the Dresden Court a great friend of Bach who was familiar with his music. Indeed Bach so admired this Amen that he had his son Wilhelm Friedemann copy it out for him.
All in all a grand sound indeed, and a disc not to be missed!