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Honey B
12-06-2012, 05:57 AM
Collegium 1704 will be performing the Missa Omnium Sanctorum ZWV 21 on 25 August 2012 at this year's Utrecht Early Music Festival. :)

http://oudemuziek.bo9.nl/en/concertcalendar/brochure/

Honey B
30-08-2012, 01:02 PM
Collegium 1704 put on a splendid performance of Missa Omnium Sanctorum in Utrecht on 25 August. It was rapturously received by the audience.

Perhaps the only disappontment was that Hana Blažíková didn't sing with them. The other soloists sang well, particularly Tomas Kral. Another disappointment was Luks' choice of the solo soprano who didn't quite have an historically informed style. Luks could have easily picked Barbora Sojkova who was singing in the choir.

It wasn't surprising Blažíková didn't sing with them as she sang in another concert with L'Armonia Sonora and Concerto Palatino just over an hour later, performing an all-Rosenmuller programme. Blažíková sang with Robin Blaze and Peter Kooij, and sang a wonderful solo Confitebor Tibi. This was arguably the highlight of the Utrecht Festival. Even Luks and other members of Collegium 1704 were in the audience.

SineNomine
01-09-2012, 01:27 PM
The soprano solo (Alena Hellerová) was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC - AMAZING. With great clarity and profound expression - exactly what Zelenka´s music needs! Beautiful voice!
The performance can be seen here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZNYtML_Zrg

Osbert Parsley
10-09-2012, 01:16 AM
Having watched the Youtube clip, I have to agree with Honey B. The soprano is not fantastic. Far from it. In fact, she is a rather ordinary modern opera singer (heavy vocal technique and rather persistent vibrato as a fundamental element of her voice) of no great artistic insight. Similarly with Luks' alto, who is much worse. By comparison with Ensemble Inegal's recording, Luks' choice of soprano and alto is an evident flaw in the performance. The soprano to some extent and the alto to a great extent are just rather vocally inappropriate and far less expressive than more stylistically attuned singers usually are in this repertoire. The choice of inappropriate sopranos and female altos has been a growing problem with Luks' otherwise exemplary performances over recent years. It is an increasing problem too, if one considers his 2012/2013 programme.

Andrew Hinds
16-09-2012, 11:03 PM
I was delighted to watch the dedication and joy of the performers who clearly love their Zelenka. Is this not enough!? I think that it is wonderful to have such an opportunity on Youtube and hope that those who have criticised the female soloists will take a broader view. I understand what they are saying but there is a broader picture and the overall effect for me of the concert is to be thankful that I can hear greatness six times (to date) and lots more over the next week or two.
I won't say "Shame on you"!
Andrew Hinds

KingMaximilian
19-09-2012, 02:38 PM
I must say I staunchly disagree with Osbert. We all know that a vocal performance is not good only because of the "mechanics" or technique of the singing, otherwise even the Zelenka midi files on this site might suffice :). What matters most, to an especial degree in Baroque music, is what the soloist imparts in that singing, the feeling, the expression. Technique counts, of course, and if, say, vibrato is being used excessively *and* artificially it really can ruin things, sure. Take for example the recent recording of Zelenka's I Penitenti al Sepolchro ZWV 63 on ZigZag (Vaclav Luks conducting also), where the talented tenor (Stoklossa) sings in the style of an Italian opera hero, and it doesn't really work. But, this is not the case here.

I have watched the youtube video of Luks performing Zelenka's ZWV 21 mass, and the soprano (Alena Hellerova) really *is* AMAZING (to quote SineNomine from September/1st). She sings with devotion, clarity, sensitivity and a lot of feeling, which more than makes up for the greater use of vibrato. The alto (Kamila Mazalova) has a unique, subdued voice, that makes a very interesting rendering of her aria. Everyone -- soloists and choir -- sings with immense dedication; the tempos are just right (unlike Adam Viktora's galloping speed); and overall the performance is not only the best I have ever heard of this mass (with all due respect to previous interpretations, including the one by Frieder Bernius), but also revelatory: until now, for me this mass was "OK, not bad", but not great. After having heard this performance, I can say it's a magnificent masterpiece. Where other performances paint a vague sketch of the Himalayas on paper, or a colourful picture, this performance takes you there.

Every major Baroque ensemble can perform with decent (period) technique, skill and precision. Above this, the way I see it, what Zelenka's music needs is not ice-cold perfection at quick speed, or a large choir with big-name soloists; it needs love and devotion. If one doesn't hear this, then that performance is empty, no matter how perfect otherwise.

Therefore, I would say: Bravo to Vaclav Luks, ensemble 1704 and all the soloists involved for such an incredible performance that has love and devotion and that recreates the music of Zelenka as he envisioned it! I encourage whoever has any connections to the ensemble and conductor to make a plea for them to record this last, ultimate mass by Zelenka, in their own, "ultimate", performance (with the same soloists, please)!

Yours
-- King Max

SineNomine
23-09-2012, 11:42 PM
Zelenka never used countertenor (nor Handel or all Italien composers). Of course he commonly used castrato-singers, but the voice of the castrato is totally different from the voice of countertenor - very, very far from the often thin and dietary voices of contemporary countertenors. It´s trendy today to use countertenors but it has nothing to do with style and historical reality. Mature female voice is much closer to the expression of castrato. You are badly informed, Osbert.
Jan

Osbert Parsley
25-09-2012, 03:53 AM
[QUOTE=SineNomine;1258]Zelenka never used countertenor (nor Handel or all Italien composers). Of course he commonly used castrato-singers ...

Jan, I think you misunderstood what I was saying about female altos in my post. Perhaps my syntax was not wholly clear. By saying "inappropriate female altos", I was not saying that it is inappropriate to use a female alto, but was saying that Luks' choice of female alto voices in recent years has veered towards alto singers of an inappropriate style.

As for that style, it is surely misconceived to refer to singers of the style of Blazikova as having "thin and dietary voices" (I know you were referring to the usual sound of modern countertenors, but Honey B's original lament was that Blazikova was replaced by the far inferior Hellerova). If the period instrument orchestra is playing with particular historically informed phrasing, dynamics, articulation and reduced vibrato (as Collegium 1704 was doing), we should expect the singers to match that style with their voices, rather than simply paying lip service to reducing vibrato a tiny bit and otherwise sound wholly "modern opera house". It is rather tedious that whenever this issue is raised, the straw man of interpretative poverty is the only answer. Pure and yet colourfully shaded (not thin and dietary) voices singing with precision such as Blazikova's does not mean ice-cold singing with a lack of love and devotion in expression as King Max suggests.

Honey B
25-09-2012, 07:09 AM
Osbert has hit the nail on the head. At Utrecht recently, I had the chance to be in several separate conversations with a leading early music tenor and a very knowledgeable early music devotee/reviewer, and exactly this point came out: good early music singers intelligently match their singing with the playing style of the instrumentalists.

It was a privilege to hear Blažíková live at Utrecht. She was everything as good as her recordings and much more.

An interesting point that SineNomine raised: “.... the voice of the castrato is totally different from the voice of (a) countertenor.” Unless SineNomine has actually heard the singing of what would today amount to child abuse, isn’t this mere speculation? Even the great Gustav Leonhardt acknowledged that “....in truth most of our playing is based on hypothesis” when he was discussing how the composers heard their music at the time.

While Honey B has inadvertently stirred a hornets’ nest, does anyone think that Markéta Cukrová was AMAZING in Luks’ 2010 recording of Officium defunctorum ZWV 47 and Requiem in D ZWV 46 (Accent ACC 24244)?

SineNomine
25-09-2012, 08:59 AM
Osbert has hit the nail on the head. At Utrecht recently, I had the chance to be in several separate conversations with a leading early music tenor and a very knowledgeable early music devotee/reviewer, and exactly this point came out: good early music singers intelligently match their singing with the playing style of the instrumentalists.

It was a privilege to hear Blažíková live at Utrecht. She was everything as good as her recordings and much more.

An interesting point that SineNomine raised: “.... the voice of the castrato is totally different from the voice of (a) countertenor.” Unless SineNomine has actually heard the singing of what would today amount to child abuse, isn’t this mere speculation? Even the great Gustav Leonhardt acknowledged that “....in truth most of our playing is based on hypothesis” when he was discussing how the composers heard their music at the time.

While Honey B has inadvertently stirred a hornets’ nest, does anyone think that Markéta Cukrová was AMAZING in Luks’ 2010 recording of Officium defunctorum ZWV 47 and Requiem in D ZWV 46 (Accent ACC 24244)?

To Honey: B

To Honey: But that is the question...what is "good early music singer". Someon likes Blazikova, someon Hellerova...that´s ok. None of the Baroque theorists do not speak about "instrumental style of singing" - alwys about vocal style of playing the instrument.

And to the difference between countertenor and castrato...it is not a hypothesis. Castrato sang full voice without transitions between registers and countertenor (falsetist) uses only one register - head voice (falsetto). The difference is clear. This is simply biology! Can you imagine the voice of Andreas Scholl or Blazikova in performance of Fux Costanza e Fortezza 1723? (open air ampheatre for 5000 people, 200 musicians in orchestra) or in Teatro San Carlo in Naples (2000 people, 80 musicians in orchestra) - just ridiculous pantomime
Bach aesthetics is simply not applicable always and everywhere - if we say Scholl is perfect for Bach, it does not mean that he is perfect for baroque in general.
Jan

Osbert Parsley
25-09-2012, 10:33 AM
Bach aesthetics is simply not applicable always and everywhere - if we say Scholl is perfect for Bach, it does not mean that he is perfect for baroque in general.
Jan


Of course, as Jan should recall, a countertenor is never ideal for a Bach alto. Bach never used a countertenor in his cantatas, just as he also never used a castrato. He had male altos with unbroken voices, but boys matured considerably older in his day so they may well have been more skilled and mature than any boy alto who can be found today. (I would love to be contradicted about this last bit!)

Therefore, Scholl is not perfect for Bach; but his power and superlative technique (at least until recently) make him a good compromise for our age when boys mature at a considerably younger age than in early 18th century Germany.

Dresden used boy sopranos in sacred music when no castrati were available and female sopranos were never used in sacred music. Some boys sopranos were stars in their own right, such as Franz Benda. 18th century commentators did not mention any marked difference between a castrato and a good boy soprano in terms of vocal style. Modern adult female sopranos singing baroque should try to imitate a boy soprano to some extent.

Theoreticians of an earlier age than Zelenka praised the cornetto for its vocal qualities. Those of a more modern age than those (i.e. from the late 17th century) praised the viola da gamba for its vocal qualities. They were surely not advocating that the cornetto and viola da gamba should be played with the heavy vibrato, approximate precision and awkward (for baroque music) articulation that modern opera house sopranos and altos such as Hellerova and Cukrova apply to Zelenka under the direction of Luks and Stryncl.

Almost certainly, the typical tone colour of the early 18th century was far brighter than is now common. Brighter does not mean shriller or louder, despite the current fashion in modern France for loud shrill sopranos in Early Music. The vocal treatises of Tosi and Giambattista Mancini (both 18th century) both call for mouth positions that, by modern standards, are quite closed and would lead to a bright, even shallow, sound, an effect probably only heightened by their lack of emphasis on breathing and support. (Note that the practice of "covering" high notes does not seem to have started before the early 19th century.) Unsurprisngly, both Tosi and Mancini explicitly criticise any heavy production. Mancini also speaks of brightening and clarifying the tone ("chiarire"). No one would pretend that heavy vibrato and heavy tone clarify anything.

Further, the continuous vibrato integral to modern vocal tone (thus to Hellerova and Cukrova) apparently had little place in baroque technique. Tosi warned against allowing sustained notes to be coloured by any "trembling" or "fluttering", which does not seem to mean he required there be absolutely no vibrato, but only that heavy fluttering or shaking of the modern opera singer type should be avoided (after all, you had to make your reputation by your ability to trill effectively in the 18th century and this meant you had to make a clear distinction between vibrato and the trill).

The expressive potential of brightened tone and limited vibrato have been well demonstrated by the best Early Music singers such as Emma Kirkby (of the first generation) and Dorothee Mields and Hana Blazikova (of the latest generation).

Another noteworthy aspect of Baroque vocal style is the distribution of weight, and indeed registers, within the voice. Jan is misinformed about castrati singing without transitions between registers. Tosi and Mancini both state that the castrato singer, the epitome of 18th century vocal style, normally sang in chest voice up to about c” or d” and then mixed into head voice for the last five or six tones of his compass. Modern female singers will probably not wish to follow this procedure, even in castrato repertoire; but the description suggests that the weight of an early 18th century singer’s voice lay in the lower range; the top of the voice was comparatively light, although certainly not weak or lacking penetration. Thus, the voice should lighten as it ascends rather than grow louder and shriller as the pitch raises as is commonly heard from modern opera singers (whether in 19th century and later repertory or in baroque repertory). The difference between this technique and the more modern approach means that those used to the modern approach can find the climactic high notes sound thin and unconvincing. But in a period-instrument or historically informed performance that is no reason for ignoring the principle and singers should avoid the temptation to apply vocal weight to the higher notes and change the nature of their musical line.

And finally, as Honey B pointed out, is it too much to want there to be stylistic consistency between the voices and the instruments in a period-instrument performance of baroque music? Otherwise, you might as well not bother with the period instruments.

SineNomine
25-09-2012, 09:57 PM
You can also find a lot of quotes from 16.-18. century speaking for vibrato...Finally, it was in the past, as today, a matter of taste
Jan

Francesco Geminiani advocated using vibrato "as frequently as possible"

J.A. Hiller, 1780. Observes that the castrato Carestini used vibrato "frequently and with very fine effect"

Georg Quitschreiber, 1598. "...one sings best with a quivering voice..."

Praetorius, 1614. "...that a singer possess a beautiful, lovely, trembling and wavering voice" -from Syntagma musicum

W.A. Mozart in 1778:

"The human voice vibrates by itself, but in a way and to a degree that is beautiful--this is the nature of the voice, and one imitates it not only on wind instruments, but also on strings"

Osbert Parsley
26-09-2012, 03:32 AM
You can also find a lot of quotes from 16.-18. century speaking for vibrato...Finally, it was in the past, as today, a matter of taste
Jan

Francesco Geminiani advocated using vibrato "as frequently as possible"

J.A. Hiller, 1780. Observes that the castrato Carestini used vibrato "frequently and with very fine effect"

Georg Quitschreiber, 1598. "...one sings best with a quivering voice..."

Praetorius, 1614. "...that a singer possess a beautiful, lovely, trembling and wavering voice" -from Syntagma musicum

W.A. Mozart in 1778:

"The human voice vibrates by itself, but in a way and to a degree that is beautiful--this is the nature of the voice, and one imitates it not only on wind instruments, but also on strings"


Mozart, to take one example, also criticised a singer for having a constant heavy vibrato (sorry, I cannot find the reference at the monent). Leopold Mozart also criticised musicians who use a constant vibrato. There is considerable evidence from 17th and 18th century sources (including, I am told, Leopold Mozart's violin treatise) that vibrato, like the crescendo, was an ornament, to be used from time to time but not constantly "gracing" the voice (as with, for example, Miss Hellerova or Miss Cukrova).

But, let us be clear: I am not advocating no vibrato at all (although I think there is an argument based on the musical writing style for absolutely minimal - or extremely rare and almost inaudible - vibrato for certain periods of music in certain places (e.g. Stradella and his mid-17th century Italian colleagues).

The problem is that people use these clear early references to vibrato and its naturalness as an excuse for hiring singers with a post-18th century vocal technique. That technique includes pasting the voice over with a heavy, constant, unchanging vibrato. It is like the tremulant stop on an organ. We know it is there, but that does not mean we have to use it constantly. How we would laugh if someone played the organ with the tremulant stop pulled for the whole recital.

However, vibrato is the easy thing to refer to. What I find sounds inappropriate in Baroque music of the Zelenka period is a type of vocal production that is heavy (especially at the top) and strident, even when no vibrato is present. In other words, using a style and technique of vocal production (which brings with it as a physical necessity a style of articulation and thus of expression) that is the product of the revolutionary change in musical aesthetics that started around 1790-1810 and would sound completely alien to Mozart and his contemporaries and all who preceded them. That is the principal problem with singers like Miss Hellerova and Miss Cukrova (who I note is a major participant in Musica Florea's upcoming Zelenka recording too).

Also, as a matter of personal taste, I find Miss Hellerova's singing lacking in expression and emotional conviction by comparison with Miss Blazikova.

By the way, if you regard the Mozart quotation as allowing a heavy, 19th century style vibrato, then he seems to be saying that the strings and winds should also adopt a heavy vibrato. If so, by that standard Collegium 1704 fell below the mark.

SineNomine
26-09-2012, 07:20 AM
Mozart, to take one example, also criticised a singer for having a constant heavy vibrato (sorry, I cannot find the reference at the monent). Leopold Mozart also criticised musicians who use a constant vibrato. There is considerable evidence from 17th and 18th century sources (including, I am told, Leopold Mozart's violin treatise) that vibrato, like the crescendo, was an ornament, to be used from time to time but not constantly "gracing" the voice (as with, for example, Miss Hellerova or Miss Cukrova).

But, let us be clear: I am not advocating no vibrato at all (although I think there is an argument based on the musical writing style for absolutely minimal - or extremely rare and almost inaudible - vibrato for certain periods of music in certain places (e.g. Stradella and his mid-17th century Italian colleagues).

The problem is that people use these clear early references to vibrato and its naturalness as an excuse for hiring singers with a post-18th century vocal technique. That technique includes pasting the voice over with a heavy, constant, unchanging vibrato. It is like the tremulant stop on an organ. We know it is there, but that does not mean we have to use it constantly. How we would laugh if someone played the organ with the tremulant stop pulled for the whole recital.

However, vibrato is the easy thing to refer to. What I find sounds inappropriate in Baroque music of the Zelenka period is a type of vocal production that is heavy (especially at the top) and strident, even when no vibrato is present. In other words, using a style and technique of vocal production (which brings with it as a physical necessity a style of articulation and thus of expression) that is the product of the revolutionary change in musical aesthetics that started around 1790-1810 and would sound completely alien to Mozart and his contemporaries and all who preceded them. That is the principal problem with singers like Miss Hellerova and Miss Cukrova (who I note is a major participant in Musica Florea's upcoming Zelenka recording too).

Also, as a matter of personal taste, I find Miss Hellerova's singing lacking in expression and emotional conviction by comparison with Miss Blazikova.

By the way, if you regard the Mozart quotation as allowing a heavy, 19th century style vibrato, then he seems to be saying that the strings and winds should also adopt a heavy vibrato. If so, by that standard Collegium 1704 fell below the mark.


What do you mean by "heavy vibrato"? Have you ever heard a really opera singers with "heavy vibrato" like Leontyne Price and many others?:-)
hardly, when you say Hellerova and Cukrova sing with "heavy vibrato".
"That is the principal problem with singers like Miss Hellerova and Miss Cukrova" - I think it's mostly your problem :-)
....by the way ... orchestras played without vibrato still the 19th century. Orchestra is again another chapter, as well as solo and ensemble singing.

Osbert Parsley
26-09-2012, 09:31 AM
"That is the principal problem with singers like Miss Hellerova and Miss Cukrova" - I think it's mostly your problem :-)



You're right, I should have made explicit that it is "my problem" with those singers, although at least one other forum member, Honey B, seems to agree.

Vibrato becomes heavy when it reaches the level of being both persistent and strongly audible. Of course there is even heavier vibrato than Miss Hellerova's, sometimes even in so-called historically informed performances. That said, I think I would still marginally prefer to hear Barbara Hendricks sing Zelenka than Miss Hellerova!

However, as I took some pains to explain in my last post, vibrato is only one element of the many elements of the post-1800 (or so) singing style I regard as (a) inappropriate for early 18th century singing and (b) inconsistent with the playing style of period instrument Baroque ensembles. I have heard some modern-style sopranos singing baroque music with almost no vibrato and the sound and expression is still all wrong.

I should have asked earlier, but is my impression correct that you positively dislike Hana Blazikova's singing or the singing style of Blazikova and similar singers (such as, for example, Dorothee Mields, Suzie Leblanc)?

Osbert Parsley
26-09-2012, 10:16 AM
Zelenka never used countertenor (nor Handel or all Italien composers). Jan

Actually, I forgot to mention this earlier, but it was a known practice in early 18th century Italy (particularly in Northern Italy) for countertenors to sing solo alto music in church, though never when a castrato was available.