Monday, June 23, 2014

Timeless Classics from 18th Century Czech Masters

Music from 18th Century Prague
Zelenka: Sanctus et Agnus Dei
Tuma: Stabat mater
Collegium 1704
Vaclav Luks, conductor

The latest installment of Supraphon's long-running Music from 18th Century Prague series features mostly sacred music by two composers, and an instrumental work by a third. All three share a connection with J.J. Fux, whose highly influential teachings on composition and counterpoint left their mark on virtually all Czech composers of the period.

The album opens with a Stabat mater of Frnatisek Tuma, who spent most of his working life in Vienna, rather than Prague. Written in the stile antico, the Stabat mater follows the ideals of Fux (channeling Palestrina). Tuma's composition is a glorious work of church counterpoint.

Jan Dismas Zelenka was known as a daring and inventive composer. And while that's true of his instrumental music, his sacred works are more conservative, following the guidelines set out by Fux. Still, the counterpoint seems fresher and brighter than that of Tuma, with a strong sense of forward motion.

Johann Orschler's Sonata in F for two violins and basso continuo provide an instrumental interlude between the choral works of Tuma and Zelenka. His sonata sounds Italianate, although somewhat understated in the solo parts.

The Collegium 1704 directed by Vaclav Luks performs these works admirably. The choir's blend is a little sparse, and the voices sometimes have an edge to them. For these works, though, it works. The dense counterpoint of Tuma especially would be muddied with a more homogenous vocal blend.

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