Responsories ZWV 55 -- Vaclav Luks & Collegium 1704


    According to the informative backcover of Collegium 1704's new recording (see…eferences/acc24259dos.jpg) and's track samples (use KingMaximilian's link above), Luks' ensemble hasn't limited itself to recording the Responsoria as an ahistorical succession of 27 musical numbers (as opposed to earlier CDs). In a way that any ensemble interested in a similar repertoire should take as a model, they have provided a minimal reconstruction of the complete liturgical performance context Jan Dismas Zelenka's ZWV 55 were part of during the Holy Week ceremonies in Dresden in 1722 or 1723. Their reintegration into the intended framework actually increases one's «purely» musical appreciation of them.

    Furthermore, this program becomes a logical continuation of the «Officium defunctorum» -CD (ZWV 47) from Collegium1704's previous issue. In accordance with tradition, the funeral music for Augustus the Strong was composed as a parallel to the liturgical music during Holy Week: The Lessons of the three Nocturnes (i.e. the hours chosen for the Readings) in the Office of the Dead thus correspond to the more familiar Tenebrae Readings of Jeremiah's Laments on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday respectively. Job's nine Laments/ Lessons are supposed to alternate with specific canoncial Responses during funeral services, just like each of the nine Lessons extracted from the Book of Jeremiah is supposed to be followed by its own canonical Responsorium during the three Easter Nocturnes of Holy Week.
    But from the back cover one notices one significant difference: While in the ZWV 47 the nine solistic Job-Laments alternate straigthforwardly with nine choral Responsoria, in the ZWV 55 program the liturgical organization does of course NOT allow each of the nine Jeremiah Laments to be followed by three (or 9x3) uninterrupted Responses. As one Lament is always connected with only one Responsorium, there are here two additional groups of Lessons. Thus, for each of the three Nocturnes (Maundy Thursday, GoodFriday and Holy Saturday) we also find Lessons 4-6 which come from St Augustine, and Lessons 7-9 which are taken from the New Testament Epistles. 27 Readings, 27 Responses to them. (See the insightful liner notes from the Helios/ Hyperion issue of ZWV 53 for more details). Because only Lessons 1-3, from Jeremiah, were given musical attention, and the remaining six were always read, the Augustine and NT Lessons are less known, despite being directly relevant to any historically adequate performance of responsorial music. Although the dating here (1722 or 1723?) remains an unresolved problem, ZWVs 53+55 seem to have been conceived as a unified program corresponding more or less to what is said above. Probably Zelenka never composed the third Lament, thus limiting his figural music to the initial two Lessons. Then also this third Jeremiah text was performed with monophonic Gregorian plainchant before its polyphonic Responsoria, just like Lessons 4 to 9.

    Collegium 1704 decided to record only ZWV 53/1 and not integrate all six Lamentationes in their comprehensive three-days program containing all the components directly related to the Responsoria. ZWV 53/2-6 are here replaced by historically plausible plainchant settings. But when one considers this already immense achievement, a superhuman effort even for Zelenka idealists like Luks & company, there is hardly any reason to complain, is there? We get two CDs packed with 158 min of music. Including ZWV 53/2-6 would have required another c.50-60 (!) minutes. Finally Collegium 1704 has clearly placed ZWV 55 in the essential liturgical framework that gives these early masterpieces back their intended contextual meaning. And in my opinion this achievement is what counts most, of course together with a high performance quality (apparently, judging from the excerpts). Besides, nowadays anyone can edit Zelenka's complete Easter Nocturnes on their own hard disk by replacing the five tracks in question with those from their personal favourites among existing ZWV 53 CDs – thanks to Luks' ensemble. This is destined to becomean essential CD, from any point of view.

    Even if Collegium 1704's performances of Jan Dismas Zelenka's Responsoria weren't so outstanding (apparently), this double-CD still would have overshadowed all earlier ZWV 55 contributions totally from a musicological point of view.

  • I fully agree with everything L'Infastidito has said, emphasising only the point that the inclusion of all the Lessons, albeit apparently in shortened form, allows me for the first time to appreciate the work as a whole. I now hear the Responses, not as a collection of disparate pieces, but each with its place in an unfolding drama.
    First impressions of the performances: there is indeed drama a-plenty, with great contrasts within and between Responses; the Lessons are presented with musical as well as liturgical interest, with a range of singers taking the role of cantor; the recording is resonant and the often dense nature of the music demands that we listen on discriminating equipment if it is to come through clearly.
    The first Lamentation from ZWV53 is sung by Marián Krejčík and not, as some might have wished, by Tomáš Král who is, however, present as one of the performers. Krejčík's voice is drier but very commanding during the forceful exhortation to Jerusalem to return to God. Yes, it is a grizzled Old Testament prophet that we have here!
    Production values at first glance are excellent. But it was disconcerting to say the least to find that the disc labelled Disc One was in fact Two and vice versa. More seriously, glancing at the list of players made me fear that this was going to be another set of Responses with restricted instrumentation, as only strings and continuo are credited. Yet, unless we have here a very versatile organ[!] there are oboes in the mix of the Lamentation [though I have not yet heard them elsewhere] and trombones in some of the Responses.
    I'm now off for some very enjoyable detailed and comparative listening!:)

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