Review: Zelenka Festival Prague 2017

  • Dear all,

    I hope you will forgive my silence so far on this. It has now been well over a month since the 4th annual Zelenka Festival & Concert Prague. It was a very successful week, with a lot of energy, fantastic music, events and exciting discussions. I invite those who came to share their experiences and thoughts here as well. I will post another thread for the Conference (because it deserves a separate one!)

    I was very fortunate to have been invited to write a review which was translated and published on the 25th October in the Czech newspaper 'Lidové Noviny' (they had to wait for the Czech Election news to die down!). Here is the article on 'Press Reader', and I have also attached an image of the printed copy to this post.

    I will modify the review for my report in English below!


    - - - - -

  • 3rd October:

    Collegium Marianum - Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae (ZWV53, 1722-3) - Kostel Panny Marie pod retezem

    Marián Krejčík (bass), Markéta Cukrová (alto/mezzo-soprano) and Virgil Hartinger (tenor/baritone) sung these to a high level. Hartinger, despite slipping up in his first tenor lamentation (no.III), used his experience as Evangelist in J.S Bach’s Passions to sing the recitatives engagingly. He delivered the melismas with a solid sustained breath and with some emotion. I'm looking forward to hear him sing in Ensemble Inégal's Psalmi Vespertini III recording, which should be out just in time for Christmas, the shop owner tells me (if you visit Prague you can meet him at his shop which near the top of ul.Loretánská). Cukrová's lamentations were very fresh sounding to the ear, because normally of course these lamentations are sung by a male alto. Her velvety voice worked fine, particularly in the final 6th. Krejčík's performance was also admirable.

    Seeing the Lamentations live certainly made me visually realise how much Zelenka varies the set. Particularly striking was when all oboes, strings and basso continuo section went off to leave just the two cellos and two flutes for the 4th Lamentation. That instantly made the performance intimate and gripping. A special cheer was given at the end to the two cellists Petr Hamouz and Petr Mašlaň, who excelled in their duet part. The oboe solos were played throughout with lyricism and clarity by Luise Haugk. Recognition also needs to go to the chalumeau player Igor Františák who played this baroque instrument, a precursor to the clarinet, with evident pride and finesse. Collegium Marianum, under the passionate musicianship and conducting of Jana Semeradová, showed in their live performance how vivid and colourful their interpretation of ZWV 53 is.

    Collegium 1704 - Missa Omnium Sanctorum ZWV21 & Bach Missa in g minor
    BWV 235 - Rudolfinum

    This was not a part of the festival, and unfortunately clashed with the Lamentations concert, meaning that I did not see it myself, but I heard from those who did. By all accounts, it was highly successful, with a packed audience (in the Rudolfinum!), with standing ovations. One person told me, with some pleasure, that after hearing both pieces side by side, the Bach "didn't stand a chance", and the programme was really quite unfair to him (;)). Another said that actually, they preferred Viktora's more energetic interpretation of ZWV21. Coll.1704 had performed this concert in Dresden only the day before.

    4th October:

    Musica Aeterna - Secular Vocal aria collection II - Rytirsky sal Velkoprevorskeho Palace (
    their title: Árie, kantáty a duety z hudební sbírky Jana Dismase Zelenky a saské korunní princezny Marie Antonie (Arias, Cantatas and duets from JDZ's musical collection for Sazon Crown Princess Maria Antonia)This was the perfect follow up to last year's Festival concert, and arguably was even more amazing. Again, the soloists were Gabriela Eibenová and Lenka Cafourková with the Slovakian baroque music ensemble led by Petr Zajicek. And yet again, they blew me away. The programme was straight out of Zelenka's 1730 collection of secular arias, which were unearthed and catalogued by djdresden (see 'Secular Vocal collection). They are as follows*:

    Giovanni Porta Sinfonia
    1675 - 1755
    Geminiano Giacomelli 'Stando accanto' (Solo, Caf)
    1692 – 1740
    Georg Friedrich Händel 'Empia sorte con la morte' (Solo, Eib) *world premiere performance of Händel cantata* (?)
    1685 - 1759
    Giuseppe Porsile Sinfonia in D
    1680 - 1750
    Leonardo Vinci 'Se mai turbo il tuo riposo' (Duet)
    1690 - 1730
    Giuseppe Sellitto 'Deh t´accheta e non negarmi' (Duet)
    1700 - 1777
    Johann Adolf Hasse 'Non mi chiamar crudele' (Solo, Caf)
    1699 - 1783 Sinfonia á 4, op. 5
    Nicola Porpora Se viver non possio (Duet)
    1686 - 1768

    A great selection of pieces, Special mention for the Handel cantata, from his period in Italy. It turns out that Zelenka's copy is, most probably, the only extant copy of this work in existence! It was a very nice piece, split into three sections, an Adagio with an intense melody and descending bassline figure, followed by a Recitative and a blistering Allegro.. You can find the score here on SLUB.
    Sellitto's duet was also a stand out from the set, and received an excited encore performance. He is the youngest of the composers featured, but by no means the least in quality.

    6th October

    Ensemble Inégal & Dresdner Kammerchor -
    Gaude Laetare (ZWV168, 1730), Missa Corporis Domini(ci) ZWV9, Da Pacem Domine (ZWV167 c.1740)

    The closing concert was the crowning gem, with its Czech premiere performance of ZWV9, and a surprise inclusion of ZWV 167.
    The virtuosic tenor motet Gaude Laetare (which you can hear on the first track of Inégal's Missae Sanctissimae Trinitatis recording) was sung by Tobias Hunger, who did admirably for a piece full of lightning quick coloratura and arpeggiation for the full tenor range. Missa Corporis Domini(ci - the "ci" is how Zelenka labels it in his Inventarium) was both a majestic and a flitting Mass, full of contrasts. At times, stately and confident (as in the Kyrie and Cum Sancto Spiritu), but at other points reflective and poignant (as in the Qui Tollis, with an oboe solo by Markus Müller, and the Agnus Dei II sung by alto Kamila Mazalová accompanied by tender violin by concert-master Lenka Torgersen). For me the two most gripping sections were the Gloria, and the Credo. Which required precise musicianship of the ensemble and choir - and they delivered. Dresdner Kammerchor did well throughout this concert, achieving a well-blended sound and tackling some tricky chromatic counterpoint in the Dona nobis pacem double-fugue, which came back as an encore at the end.

    Da Pacem Domine was a surprise for most of the audience, including me. Adam Viktora cleverly allowed the anticipation to build up to it by waiting a bit longer than usual. It couldn’t be more different from the Mass, with long graceful vocal lines and pulsing strings in the same style as Zelenka’s famous late Masses. This was quite heavenly, but also feverish and invigorating. There was some discussion afterwards, however, as to how we should interpret the source for ZWV 167 - what was its design in the Dresden Catholic Court Church? was it fully composed by Zelenka? In amongst such a messy manuscript score, can we really achieve an authentic performable version, as Zelenka would have intended? These points are very open to discussion, but the interesting news is that we will get to hear it on disk because Ensemble Inégal have recorded it along with the Psalmi Vespertini III.

    All in all, a terrific week of music. I hope the festival will continue to deliver (and exceed) such a standard.

    *I'm not sure if the soloists here are correct, because I'm stretching my memory

  • Hi Seb, I know I´m late, but congrats for the article! May I ask - did they contacted you, asking for a report, or was it the other way around? Ondra Dobisík

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