THE PSALMI VESPERTINI-RECORDINGS
Congratulations to Ensemble Inegal for their latest addition to the project of recording all Jan Dismas Zelenka's remaining Psalm settings, and my deepest respect for their willingness to take upon themselves this Herculean task. Zelenka and Ensemble Inegal deserve each other!
While the performances both in volume I and the recent volume II are exactly as outstanding as we can expect from an ensemble which by now has an intimate aquaintance with Zelenka's music, the overall impression of the musical contents of the two Psalm cycles is quite varied.
In the first cycle, longer and more thorough musical explorations of the Davidian Psalm texts dominate, with detailed number settings. In the second group, the typical feature is shorter, through-composed settings with more concise textual interpretations and likewise a more economical use of the musical resources. But these external limitations do not in any way impoverish the quality of the musical results. My personal favourite in cycle II, the Zwv 92 "Nisi Dominus" is the perfect example of how a demand for a more compact composition turns out to become a strengh rather than a weakness in the right artist's hands.
Throughout this compressed 5 1/2-minutes typical showcase of JDZ's art at its best, the passionately melancolic voices are floating divinely above the turbulent basis (or waters, ground) of Zelenka's vivid and inventive bass line, thus offering a subtle musical interpretation of the Psalm text "Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum (...)".
The eagerly awaited third cycle will apparently also be dominated by more economical settings, equally intelligently and creatively interpreted within the limitations expected from JDZ by his employers. I regret so much that I cannot be present at the world premiere concert of the Psalmi Vespertini III in Prague on the 23rd of March 2017!
On their website Ensemble Inegal now explicitly confirms this to be a four-year project, including as well the more varied fourth cycle, the "Psalmi varii", in which the composer lists various Psalms created after the three more regular cycles. Not surprisingly, the characteristic feature of the final group of Psalms is precisely their great variation in lenght, style and, probably, performance occasions. While those listed first, like the "Dixit" (Zwv 67) and "Confitebor" (Zwv 73) seem to be more compact like in cycle II, "Laetatus sum" (Zwv 90) and the sadly lost "Laudate pueri" (Zwv 80) are extensive number settings like in cycle I, but nevertheless more virtuosic in style and instrumentation, in order to satisfy the changing musical taste in Dresden around 1730.
After Zwv 90 and Zvw 80, JDZ seems to have composed only one more setting of a Davidian Psalm to my knowledge, Psalm number 134 (Vulgata 133), the "Ecce nunc benedicite" (Zwv 99) dated c.1739. Here Zelenka apparently returns to the short through-composed approach dominating in the cycles II and III, for one last time - but the musical style ought to be more like that of the well-known late Masses from the same period, and Zwv 99 is one of only a couple of works from his final style that haven't been recorded yet. Of course JDZ didn't include Zwv 99 in cycle IV because he had stopped updating his inventories by 1739, but it logically fits into the heterogenous nature of the last Psalm group, and would be a very fitting final statement of Zelenka's almost lifelong musical committment to the Davidian Psalms. In my opinion it could therefore make sense to extend the 4th and final Psalm recording by adding his last David Psalm setting and the only one in his late manner, the "Ecce nunc benedicite" (Zwv 99), to the "Psalmi varii"-list and to the CD.
Independently of how Ensemble Inegal's great undertaking ends up, however, its scale and quality guarantees that their work will be remembered as long as Jan Dismas Zelenka will be remembered.