Melodrama of St Wenceslas (Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis) ZWV175

  • This is a copy of my 5 October 2001 note sent to the (UK) Dvorak Society.
    "One of the greatest baroque composers and still unknown to many music lovers reached the pinnacle of his career in 1723 when he conducted his celebratory piece for a coronation in Prague. Zelenka's music, which lasts for an hour and a half, has at last appeared on CD and Supraphon are to be congratulated for using Musica Florea augmented with other fine players under their conductor, Marek Stryncl. Their two illustrative booklets, one of which is the text in several different languages, are of a high standard.

    I welcome this issue of the double CD (SU3520-2232) unreservedly and would urge everyone to buy it and hear this fine music for themselves. That is not because the whole performance is entirely satisfactory but there are certainly 70 minutes to be very pleased with and with 36 tracks it is easy to live with a few blemishes or bypass two or three tracks. The rest has so much to commend it and unfortunately we shall probably have to wait a long time before 150 performers are assembled and do any better with the phenominally difficult passages.

    Appropriately for a Coronation, there are fanfares and trumpets and more cheerfulness than is usual with Zelenka with the musicians in great form for much of the time and only occasionally ragged.

    There are 12 ear-catching. sensibly-short Recitatives, 4 choruses and 18 very fine arias not to mention an impressive orchestral overture at track 1 as well as a ritornello for orchestra alone at track 16.

    Both sopranos are good to listen to and Noemi Kiss, a soprano who has studied with Emma Kirkby, demonstrates her wonderful skill in two duets (track 18 particularly - listen out for a fleeting chirpy/cheeky second or two from her and the tenor soloist). If you like intricate rhythms, track 13 is masterly and subtle. What exquisite music is provided in the track 28 (track 10 of CD2) duet with its wonderfully flowing cello accompaniment. The timbre of the bass's voice is splendid and I regard the track 26 aria as one of the finest of all Zelenka's arias. It fell short of my hoped-for perfection - perhaps I wanted too much.

    The orchestral playing was brilliant - most satisfactory - and I have gradually adjusted to the much faster pace compared to Reinhard Goebel's 1990 performance with Musica Antiqua Koln (recorded for BBC Radio 3). The Philidor Boys choir did extremely well and their angel chorus (track 21) would grace any Classic FM programme - a good way to introduce Zelenka to a wider audience perhaps.

    Zelenka is a word painter and a typical example is in track 2 where "percuss" meaning "dash to pieces" is given much dramatic attention. An aria obliged to use the name of the ruler "Ferdinande" (track 31) could be dreadful but the name is catchily and endearingly presented by tenor and chorus.

    With the availability of this World premiere CD set, the opportunity can now be taken to assess this music and for people to decide for themselves whether this is a masterpiece. For me, it is very special."

    Andrew Hinds

  • The wonderful bass aria "Exurge, Providentia" is very finely sung on track 8 of the Panton CD 80-0331-2911 by Karel Hanus whose deep voice is perfect for this music. I much prefer it to track 26 of the CD set and would urge anyone who gets the opportunity to compare the two.
    Andrew Hinds

Participate now!

Don’t have an account yet? Register yourself now and be a part of our community!