Recommended CDs

Recommended CDs


Evidently the volatile, utopian, experimental quality of the music – its insoluble mystery – still makes a great many performers (whether using period or modern instruments) feel insecure and frightens them off. (Heinz Holliger)


There have been over 150 CDs produced containing the music of J.D. Zelenka, many of which deserve to be heard at least once. The small selection of CDs listed on this page (further below) contains some of the best recordings in terms of artistic interpretation / performance, choice of works, and recording quality, divided into two parts:

Overall, the works represented cover a relatively wide spectrum and are generally agreed to be among the best written by Zelenka, each one being a unique Baroque musical masterpiece. Within the two-part list below, the CDs are loosely organized beginning with vocal works (motets in the general sense, followed by masses, then oratorios, then other vocal works), and ending in instrumental works.

The recordings were chosen by a handful of discerning Zelenka enthusiasts with widely different backgrounds. Some CDs narrowly missed being included, so the list should not be regarded as exclusive in any way; however, it provides a firm starting point into the Zelenka discography, for both experts and new listeners alike.

For details on where to purchase any of these CDs, please visit the Sources of CDs page.


Essential

Essential


Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah (ZWV 53)

Hyperion Helios CDH 55106
UK, 1991


Notes: An interpretative pinnacle of one of Zelenka's most deeply moving works, still unsurpassed after nearly 30 years, despite several fine attempts. Zelenka's Lamentations capture the Hebrew prophet's dark, apocalyptic voice like no other composer – in 3 different “timbres”: bass, tenor and alto. A perfect introduction to Zelenka's middle (mature) period.

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Miserere (ZWV 57), Requiem (ZWV 48), De Profundis (ZWV 50/97)

Passacaille 9528
Belgium, 2000


Notes: The works on this CD are a selection of some of Zelenka's outstanding middle- and (early) late-period vocal music, including the relatively well-known Miserere ZWV 57 from 1738, of which Wolfgang Reich writes that today's listener will be emotionally shaken when first listening to this work and the unexpected entry of the last movement will certainly provide a shock. Similar words could be said of the other two works on this CD. Superb interpretations.

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Sacred Music (ZWV 147, ZWV 134, ZWV 135, ZWV 47)

Hyperion Helios CDH55424
UK, 2012
Digital recording from 2002, originally released on Hyperion CDA67350 (2003).


Notes: This CD includes one of Zelenka's late litanies (ZWV 147), two motets (Regina Coeli ZWV 134, Salve Regina ZWV 135), as well as three lessons and the invitatory from the 1733 requiem (ZWV 47) – a broad selection ranging in mood from the joyful and exuberant to the solemn and austere, all exquisitely performed.

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Psalmi Vespertini I (ZWV 66, ZWV 72, ZWV 75, ZWV 82, ZWV 83, ZWV 97, ZWV 108)

Nibiru 01612231
Czech Republic, 2015


Notes: This is the first volume of Zelenka's psalm cycles performed by Ensemble Inégal and soloists, and includes a number of world premiere recordings (as does the rest of the series) of these sophisticated motet-like works. The performances on this CD by all musicians, soloists and instrumentalists alike, are all uniformly superb. The De profundis ZWV 97 motet overlaps with the Passacaille recording conducted by Paul Dombrecht (above) and receives a somewhat different though sensitive and equally beautiful interpretation.

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Psalmi Vespertini III (ZWV 70, ZWV 84, ZWV 87, ZWV 91, ZWV 94, ZWV 98, ZWV 100, ZWV 101) and Da pacem Domine (ZWV 167)

Nibiru 01642231
Czech Republic, 2017


Notes: This is the third volume of psalm settings performed by Ensemble Inégal and soloists. The CD contains some immensely beautiful works from Zelenka's pen: beginning with the brilliant choir-motet Da pacem Domine ZWV 167, then launching into a sequence of settings for one or more soloists that encompass a kaleidoscopic range moods and emotions, mostly ending in sophisticated fugal movements. On the whole, the performances are excellent.

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Psalmi Vespertini IV (ZWV 67, ZWV 71, ZWV73, ZWV 81, ZWV92, ZWV 95, ZWV 99, ZWV 102)

Nibiru 01652231
Czech Republic, 2018


Notes: This is the fourth and final volume of Zelenka's psalm settings (and several other motets outside the psalm sequences) performed by Ensemble Inégal and soloists. Two highlights include the poignant, deeply expressive Confitebor ZWV 73 for bass, and the highly virtuostic Laetatus sum ZWV 92 for soprano and alto – all performed with great dedication.

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Missa Purificationis (ZWV 16), Litaniae Lauritanae Consolatrix Afflictorum (ZWV 151)

Nibiru 0147-2211
Czech Republic, 2007


Notes: The Missa Purificationis ZWV 16 is Zelenka's last mass to use larger-scale instrumental forces; the litany ZWV 151 accompanying the mass belongs to Zelenka's late period, and is sparser in texture. On this recording both works sound smaller in scale (in a positive sense, and in comparison to some of Zelenka's festive masses), and contain many breathtakingly beautiful moments. The performances by Ensemble Inégal and soloists are superb.

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Missa Sanctissimae Trinitatis (ZWV 17)

Thorofon CTH 2265
Germany, 1995


Notes: The Missa Sanctissimae Trinitatis ZWV 17 is the first of Zelenka's highly original Missa Ultimae (last masses, from Zelenka's late period), which are considered to be among Zelenka's greatest works and some of the peaks of Baroque sacred music more generally (see also the Works to Hear page and the General Reading and References page). The mass receives a truly superb performance on this CD with Wolfram Wehnert conducting.

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Missa Votiva (ZWV 18)

Thorofon CTH 2172
Germany, 1992


Notes: Missa Votiva ZWV 18 is the second of Zelenka's Missa Ultimae (see also the References page for reading material on this work), in another truly superb performance conducted by Wolfram Wehnert.

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Missa Dei Patris (ZWV 19)

Brilliant Classics 94691
2013
Digital recording from 1988, originally released on Capriccio 10 285 (1990) and later on Berlin Classics BC 1078-2 (1993).


Notes: The Missa Dei Patris ZWV 19 is Zelenka's longest work among the Missa Ultimae. The performance on this CD is conducted by Ludwig Guttler and captures the mass' seriousness, jubilation and ornate beauty like no other. The same recording has been released several times: this is the latest version on Brilliant Classics as part of a 2 CD set. Note that the mass is contained on the first CD of this set only – the second CD (with several orchestral Capricci and two motets) does not reach the same heights of inspiration and interpretative excellence.

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Missa Dei Filii (ZWV 20), Litaniae Lauretanae Salus infirmorum (ZWV 152)

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi/BMG Classics RD77922 (U.S. 7922-2-RC)
Germany, 1990
Also available as part of Sony Classical Cat. No. 88985439412 (released 2017).


Notes: Frieder Bernius' first recording of Zelenka, the CD couples the exuberant Missa Dei Filii ZWV 20 – with its dynamic, highly complex Gloria movement – together with a smaller-scale, contemplative litany from Zelenka's last period. Both are essential works in a superb performance. The CD has been released several times over the years by DHM, and is included as part of a low-priced 15-CD Sony box set released in 2017 (Frieder Bernius: The Complete Sony Classical Recordings, Cat. No. 88985439412).

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Missa Omnium Sanctorum (ZWV 21)

Sony Classics SK 60592
Germany, 1998
Also available as part of Sony Classical Cat. No. 88985439412 (released 2017).


Notes: This CD contains the last of Zelenka's towering masses, the Missa Omnium Sanctorum ZWV 21, as interpreted by Frieder Bernius. The CD is no longer available, but is included in a low-priced 15-CD Sony box set released in 2017 (Frieder Bernius: The Complete Sony Classical Recordings, Cat. No. 88985439412).

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Te Deum (ZWV 146)

Carus 83.148
Germany, 2000


Notes: Zelenka's late Te Deum setting is a large-scale work of glorious light and colour, and receives a superb performance here, conducted by Hans-Christoph Rademann. The accompanying mass by Zelenka's Dresden colleague Johann David Heinichen also deserves to be heard, even if it is not the result of the same whirlwind of inspiration as Zelenka's musical masterpiece.

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Il Serpente del Bronzo (ZWV 61)

Nibiru 0146-2211
Czech Republic, 2011
Originally released in 2005 (white coloured cover).


Notes: Il Serpente del Bronzo is the first of several oratorios which Zelenka wrote in the 1730's, and consists of a number of virtuostic arias of genuine spiritual depth, dramatising the story of Moses and the bronze serpent from the Biblical Book of Kings. The work received its world premiere recording on this CD. The performance from all the soloists, accompanied by Ensemble Inégal, is superb.

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Il Diamante (ZWV 177)

Nibiru 01512232
Czech Republic, 2009


Notes: Il Diamante is Zelenka's only Serenata – an opera-like form that, among others, Vivaldi also used to great effect, e.g. La Senna Festeggiante, RV 693 – scored for several high voices. Like so many of Zelenka's works, Il Diamante was re-discovered and subsequently received its world premiere recording on this CD. While Zelenka's serious Baroque style is not entirely compatible with the frivolous nature of the underlying text, the performance, conducted by Adam Viktora, is superb (notwithstanding occasionally hurried tempi) due above all to the outstanding contributions of the vocal soloists.

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Six Sonatas (ZWV 181)

ECM 462 542-2
Germany, 1999


Notes: Perhaps Zelenka's most famous and most performed works are the six trio sonatas for oboe and bassoon with basso continuo. Eccentric in the best sense of the word, the trio sonatas showcase Zelenka's contrapuntal skill and unique handling of instrumental textures. While most, if not all, interpretations of these works could be said to have their own individual merits, this 1999 ECM recording by Heinz Holliger and colleagues reaches unparalleled levels of virtuosity, clarity, dynamism and depth of sympathy for the music.

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Concerto (ZWV 186), Hipocondrie (ZWV 187), Ouverture (ZWV 188), Simphonie (ZWV 189)

Passacaille 9524
Belgium, 2000


Notes: This CD presents a selection of Zelenka's mature orchestral works (from the early 1720's) in excellent performances by Il Fundamento, conducted by Paul Dombrecht.

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Extra

Extra


Responsoria pro Hebdomada Sancta (ZWV55)

Accent ACC 24259
Belgium, 2012


Notes: Zelenka's Responses are polyphonic, madrigalesque works in the late Renaissance spirit, complementing the solemn Lamentations ZWV 53 (see the Essential CDs above). The talented musicians under Vaclav Luks interepret these works superbly – with great sympathy, clarity and stylistic understanding. The 27 Responses, which generously span 2 CDs, are prefaced by a recording of the first Lamentation, which, unfortunately, does not reach the same sublime heights as other interpretations (again, see the Essential CDs above); however, it could be said to provide yet another (alternative) view of the work, for those willing to hear it. The Responses are interspersed with Gregorian chant, and are essential listening for anyone wishing to hear the more “Palestrina-like“ side of Zelenka.

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Solo Motets for Alto (ZWV 164, ZWV 126, ZWV 29, ZWV 171, ZWV 209) (and 2 instrumental works)

Pan Classics PC 10274
2012


Notes: A recital disc by British countertenor Alex Potter containing an eclectic selection of predominantly vocal works, from the motet Barbara, dira effera! (ZWV 164) – which shows Zelenka applying various operatic affeti with dazzling, though not entirely convincing, results – to more plaintive works, such as the Christe eleison ZWV 29 movement. All works are performed superbly.

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Psalmi Vespertini II (ZWV 68, ZWV 76, ZWV 85, ZWV 88, ZWV 92, ZWV 96, ZWV 104, ZWV 107)

Nibiru 01632231
Czech Republic, 2016


Notes: This is the second volume of psalm settings performed by Ensemble Inégal and soloists, and includes the powerful and poignant Nisi Dominus ZWV 92, among other motet-like works in which Zelenka's genius is everywhere in evidence. The contributions from the musicians are generally very fine, excepting some occasional over-dramatisation and instability from the bass soloist.

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Missa Paschalis (ZWV 7), Litaniae Omnium Sanctorum (ZWV 153)

Nibiru 01582231
Czech Republic, 2013


Notes: Missa Paschalis is one of Zelenka's jubilant, festive masses, with noisome outbursts of brass instruments colouring several of the momevements. It is accompanied by the Litaniae Omnium Sanctorum ZWV 153, which, like all of Zelenka's late works, contains much depth and substance at the expense of external brilliance; it is particularly rewarding. The performance of both works is excellent.

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Missa Nativitatis Domini (ZWV 8), Dixit Dominus (ZWV 68), Magnificat (ZWV 108)

Genuin GEN 11213
Germany, 2011


Notes: Zelenka's Missa Nativitatis Domini ZWV 8 is another jubilant work, though in a somewhat more subtle way than the Missa Paschalis. The performance on this CD is on the whole excellent; however, the soprano and alto soloists, although by all means competent, are not quite as artistically pronounced as the other soloists, affecting the interpretations of the two psalms ZWV 68 and ZWV 108 (these works can also be heard on the Psalmi Vespertini I and III CDs).

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Missa Nativitatis Domini (ZWV 8), Magnificat (ZWV 107), O magnum mysterium (ZWV 171), Chvalte Boha silneho (ZWV 165)

Supraphon SU 4111-2
Czech Republic, 2012


Notes: This CD presents an alternative interpretation of the Missa Nativitatis Domini (more expansive and less structurally focused), conducted by Marek Štryncl. The three acompanying motets on the disc are performed very well also, with the highlight being the motet sung in Czech, Chvalte Boha silneho (Praise God in His Sanctuary, ZWV 165), which receives an inspired and warm interpretation by bass soloist Tomáš Král.

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Missa Divi Xaverii (ZWV 12), Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio (ZWV 156)

Accent ACC 24301
Belgium, 2016


Notes: A world-premiere recording of two of Zelenka's large-scale choral works dedicated directly and indirectly to the Catholic missionary Francis Xavier. The performances are superb; however, the dynamic range of the recording is uncomfortably wide, and quiet sections can be difficult to hear at the expense of louder sections.

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Missa Sancti Josephi (ZWV 14), Litaniae Xaveriane (ZWV 155)

Nibiru 01532231
Czech Republic, 2011


Notes: Another one of Zelenka's large-scale choral works, the Missa Sancti Josephi ZWV 14 receives an excellent interpretation from Ensemble Inégal, notwithstanding some very brisk tempi, which, in this case, help to lighten the textures and provide stronger forward momentum.

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Missa Sancti Josephi (ZWV 14), Two motets (ZWV 50/97, ZWV 84)

Carus CAR 83279
Germany, 2018


Notes: Another excellent interpretation of the Missa Sancti Josephi, conducted by Frieder Bernius. In contrast to the recording above, the interetative approach on this recording places greater emphasis on the shaping of individual sections of each movement, which creates a more expansive aural effect but tends to lose the overall musical argument of the work. The two motets receive solid performances – especially In exitu Israel ZWV 84 (the De Profundis ZWV 50/97 is more detached emotionally).

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Missa Votiva (ZWV 18)

Carus 83.223
Germany, 2010


Notes: An alternative interpretation of Zelenka's Missa Votiva, conducted by Frieder Bernius.

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Sepolcri (ZWV 58, ZWV 59, ZWV 60)

Supraphon SU 4068-2
Czech Republic, 2011


Notes: Zelenka's Sepolcri are three early oratorio-like works (in fact, some of his earliest surviving works) which nevertheless contain some lovely music, performed superbly on this recording by Collegium Marianum and soloists, conducted by Jana Semerádová.

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Italian Arias (ZWV 176)

Accent ACC 24306
Belgium, 2015


Notes: Zelenka never wrote any operas, however, he did write eight opera arias and a Serenata (see below). This CD presents the opera arias, composed in 1733. Although Zelenka may have been aiming to show his dramatic-operatic talent – perhaps as another side of his musical personality – the arias are better characterised as chamber cantatas, e.g. in the spirit of Giovanni Battista Bononcini's works in the same genre, and are intimiate masterpieces combining Zelenka's inimitable style with various Galante elements. The performances are superb.

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Complete Instrumental Works (ZWV 181 – 190)

DG Archiv 4698422
Germany, 2002


Notes: This CD set includes Zelenka's orchestral works performed by Camerata Bern (1970's recordings), and the trio sonatas performed by Heinz Holliger and colleagues in an earlier interpretation from 1972. All the performances are excellent overall, although the trio sonatas are performed even better in the later ECM recording (see Essential CDs above), notwithstanding a certain forward balance of some instruments.

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Take the Journey

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