Posts by davidN

    Dear Monika,
    May I add my welcome greetings and enjoyment of your enthusiasm! It is remarkable how Zelenka's music communicates, and I respond wholeheartedly to your words: velocity; power; idealism.
    I hope that my very personal response comes through in my CD Survey of his music which you can find tagged on the opening page of - it's amazing how much of his output is now readily available in really outstanding recordings!
    All my very best wishes from Lewes, Sussex, UK

    Idly tuning to BBC Radio3 the other evening, I leaped with joy, for there was the Gloria from Missa Dei Filii, the very piece and version [Bernius] which started me off on the Zelenka journey, as readers of the Survey now available on this site will know! The BBC was apparently playing it because of a press article that had appeared. On enquiry, the BBC gave me the link to the article in the British journal The Spectator.

    I am assuming that the radio broadcast and acknowledgement of the source allows me to share the article with you all! The author is Damian Thompson, journalist and columnist. He briefly mentioned Zelenka and the Gloria in a column last year and I referred him to this website. Clearly, he has visited it! Anyway, here is his article, and I hope that it gives you as much pleasure as it has Alistair and me!

    "When I was in my late twenties I discovered the joy of drinking alone. Well, perhaps ‘joy’ is putting it too strongly. I’d been thrown out of the flat I shared with one of my closest friends from university after a series of drunken rows about his social-climbing girlfriend. I was living in a converted gardener’s cottage in west London. It was painted pink, for some reason (‘a pink cottage — just right for you,’ harrumphed my ex-flatmate), and furnished so miserably that it didn’t seem worth the effort to throw out the empty wine bottles or bother with ashtrays.

    Now I could binge-drink and, just as important, binge-listen. The late Beethoven quartets, in virtuosic but slightly unhinged performances by the Lindsays, suited my mood. But when I was really pissed, and had finished drunk-dialling my delighted friends, I invariably turned to the same disc, on unofficial permanent loan from Kensington and Chelsea Library. (Can you imagine borrowing a CD from the library today? I shouldn’t think it stocks them any more. No point in returning it, then.)

    It was a Mass by Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745), a Czech composer at the court of Dresden, whose ruler, August, Elector of Saxony, had converted to Catholicism in order to become King of Poland. This was a very odd arrangement, requiring a Catholic royal chapel in the middle of a staunchly Lutheran city. August, feeling insecure, married his son to the Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria. She wanted to hear the frills and furbelows of southern European Catholicism in the chapel — and Zelenka, who’d studied with the Jesuits in Prague, was happy to supply them.

    In fact, Maria Josepha got more than she bargained for. Zelenka, an unmarried man and passionate Catholic, wrote music that was spiky with ornaments and amazingly hard-driven. The orchestral ritornello passages of his Masses and oratorios bounce across the stave, repeating themselves with an intensity bordering on mania; choir and string players alike are required to toss off terrifying scales and trills previously reserved for soloists. When I first heard the Gloria of the Missa Dei Filii — the disc I’d ‘borrowed’ — I was bewildered. Zelenka makes his choir swoop down from the heights in a breakneck syncopated scale — again and again and again. When I was drunk I played ‘the swoop’ addictively; even now, nearly 20 years after I gave up the sauce, a single hearing is never enough.

    Was he, perhaps, plastered when he wrote it? The Missa Dei Filii is one of a number of huge Mass settings he wrote when he retired into seclusion. They may never have received a performance. Today, despite a small-scale rediscovery of Zelenka, there are no more than two or three recordings of each of them, and many sacred and chamber works remain unrecorded. Which is scandalous. In his final years, the composer developed a breathtakingly radical language. His fugue subjects, with their strangely angled intervals, are worked out with a contrapuntal mastery second only to Bach’s — but Zelenka never sounds like anyone but himself. He belongs to a band of mavericks in musical history whose experiments with harmony seem to catapult them into another generation: one thinks of William Lawes, a composer from the court of Charles I whose distilled dissonances still shock the ear; the violent chromaticism of Gesualdo; maybe Charles Ives.

    I was glad to discover, rooting about the internet, that Zelenka has a small but fanatical fan club. On there’s a thread where users are asked for their favourite Zelenka track. Andrew Hinds from East Sussex suggests the final movement of I Penitente al Supulchro del Redentore, a Good Friday oratorio. ‘The sincerity of our great man, Zelenka, shines through in this wonderful music and, by reflection, it is possible to believe what he believed,’ he writes. ‘Our great man’, ‘our dear master’ — there’s something protective in the way Zelenkans talk about the composer, whose misery in life distresses them almost as much as his posthumous neglect.

    ‘Scott from Brooklyn’ nominates the last two tracks of the Credo of the Missa Dei Patris, from Et resurrexit on. (There’s a recording by Frieder Bernius and the Stuttgart Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir — snap it up.) He describes the skill with which Zelenka inserts plainchant into a bustling ritornello which interrupts a double fugue. ‘Then the fugue and the ritornello alternate at shorter and shorter intervals, almost as if in a contest or a race, leading to an exhilarating close. Hard to decide which won.’ After reading this I went back to the CD: ‘exhilarating’ is putting it mildly. ‘Why do so few people seem to appreciate this miraculous music?’ asks Scott, adding a sad-faced emoticon. I don’t know the answer — but, please, can we do something about it?"

    This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 27 July 2013.

    No, l'infastidito, I don't think differently. I totally agree with your judgements of ZWV 90 and ZWV 153. And the recordings from the Czech Republic that we have already are really too old.

    This is brilliant news: I fully agree that we are so lucky that Zelenka has gained not only the commitment but also the awe-inspiring musicianship of Adam Victora and his colleagues.

    Andrew Hinds recently introduced me to the old Panton recording of In exitu Israel ZWV83; this too is a work which would benefit from a recording by our heroes!

    [quote='davidN','']Colleagues may have noticed, and been excited, that The Bach Sinfonia's new recording of the Capriccios 1-5 had been announced for release in October and then for the beginning of this month. However the publicity has been confused, sometimes referring to 2 CDs, sometimes to a Blu-ray disc.

    The distributors in the UK, Select, now confirm that the package comprises one CD [which I expected] plus one Blu-ray disc, but also that release has been delayed, probably until February, because the Blu-ray pressing was faulty. They did not respond to my plea for a CD copy only in the meantime!

    The label is Dorian /Sono Luminus with the number DSL 92163.


    I have not yet listened in detail but note that the horn players do not use hand stopping, maintaining that this did not come in until after 1725, and rely solely on embouchure and crooks. Fascinating!

    David N

    It's an excellent record in every way - see my updated survey now on the main website/News [thank you Alistair!] A close run thing as between it and Štryncl's version in my view but ZWV168 is a great addition to anyone's repertoire, as a joyful and tuneful work. It is wonderfully sung by the highly experienced Japanese tenor Makoto Sakurada, a veteran of many recordings of Bach by the Bach Collegium under Suzuki. An indication perhaps of how our composer is now moving towards the baroque mainstream in estimation [never in conformity!], and how the Czech groups themselves are becoming recognised as being of truly international standing [which we always knew!] - Hana Blažikova now sings and records regularly in Japan!


    Colleagues may have noticed, and been excited, that The Bach Sinfonia's new recording of the Capriccios 1-5 had been announced for release in October and then for the beginning of this month. However the publicity has been confused, sometimes referring to 2 CDs, sometimes to a Blu-ray disc.

    The distributors in the UK, Select, now confirm that the package comprises one CD [which I expected] plus one Blu-ray disc, but also that release has been delayed, probably until February, because the Blu-ray pressing was faulty. They did not respond to my plea for a CD copy only in the meantime!

    The label is Dorian /Sono Luminus with the number DSL 92163.

    Whether or not any of us responded to the invitation to submit ideas for the album cover, the artwork is in fact strikingly effective - a wine coloured background simply stating

    ZELENKA: The Capriccios
    in a dignified font. Anticipation mounts!

    David N

    As part of the Brighton Early Music Festival, the International Baroque Players will perform ZWV 186 alongside other music from German Courts. This is part of a concert entitled "Celebrating Coronations" which will also include coronation anthems from Boyce, Purcell and of course Handel's Zadok THe Priest.

    The date is Sunday 11th November, 7-30 pm and the venue St George's Church, Kemptown Brighton.

    Further details from


    The bass which Andrew refers to is Karel Hanuš who was one of Prague's leading operatic basses during the 1960's - I think he was born around 1929/30 but don't know whether he is still alive. He appeared on several Supraphon complete Smetana opera sets for example. The whole disc was a Zelenka "sampler" recorded as early as 1972 - a real pioneering effort.

    The record also includes In Exitu Israel ZWV 83 from the Kuhn Mixed Choir plus Hanuš and the venerable tenor Beno Blachut. At 12 minutes this is a more substantial setting than ZWV 84 and I had never heard it until Andrew shared the disc with me. It is a wonderful work and would make a superb fill up to a mass dating from the early 1720's: the only other recording which our website lists appears to be no longer available, at least in the UK[ORF/Casinos Austria. Cat. No. LID 1994/2/3.]

    So here's another request to be included in future recording projects!

    I too hope that we will all contribute through Paypal to ensure that these costs are covered. The service that Alistair and the website perform in aid of our composer's cause is incalculable.

    One benefit from this crisis is that we now know the annual cost [currently $270] that Alistair has borne probably entirely from his own pocket just to keep the site "up there." I hope that we will all continue to remember this and mark the date in our diaries for each year to ensure that he does not continue to carry the burden alone.

    I am convinced that Alistair's foundation of this website, and the way in which enthusiasts have contributed resources and information to it, have been a most important factor in the rebirth of our composer in recent years.

    It would be a tragedy if the impetus were now to be lost.

    I personally would be happy to contribute $300 to the enterprise of enabling Alistair to engage a programmer to take the site to the new platform.
    How about it, enthusiasts?

    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!:)

    An excellent idea! I would urge not only Confitebor ZWV71 [as a combination of Tomás Král and a band like Collegium Marianum would be an ideal update to Olaf Bär's old version] but also Chvelte Boha Silného, ZWV 165 which would give him plenty to get his teeth into! All the groups mentioned have shown their credentials but I say Collegium Marianum because their profile on CD at least is as yet rather less than the others and yet they are of at least equal worth.
    As for other items on the disc, I would urge other composers associated with Dresden at this time so that we can get a rounded view of Zelenka's context.
    :D at the prospect!

    Many thanks to Honey B for raising this issue and to everyone who has helped make it a most interesting debate! I was going to contribute to support the middle ground but found that King Maximilian had anticipated most of my points, so decided to wait until I had actually heard Adam Viktora's new CD.

    Despite the "poor value for money" - 47 minutes' total playing time forsooth - I do urge everyone to get it whether they like Britten or not, indeed especially if they feel they hate Britten or modern music.

    This is a wonderful disc. All the virtues for which we admire Esemble Inégal - the beauty of tone whatever the tempo or dynamic, the clarity of line, the miraculous light and shade and musicality of the phrasing - are ideally suited to this work.

    I listened with someone who has sung the piece and who plays the harp. Her verdict? Utterly beautiful, the best performance she has ever heard live or on CD.

    The Pärt is a minor part of the disc: 3 slighter works but interesting and attractive, equally well performed and suited to these singers.

    A theme in our debate seems to be whether our heroes might be betraying their expertise by stepping outside their comfort zone. I hope that I have shown that vocally this is not the case. Surely they can only be refreshed and developed as artists by performing non-baroque works that are suited to their talents?

    It is also noteworthy that the Britten is accompanied only by harp.The Pärt has 6 instrumentalists of whom only one, the cellist, played in the Missa Omnium Sanctorum. Viktora's Dvořak Mass was with organ alone. So no Ensemble Inégal / Prague Baroque Soloists playing Rachmaninov's The Bells for us, it would seem.

    I agree that I would not like to see Viktora's wonderful vocalists torturing their voices in some of the later music, including for example Beethoven's 9th, but where they can illuminate and communicate the music with their precious set of virtues, whether it be back to the Renaissance or forward to Martinů's equally suitable madrigals, then I shall rush out to buy their disc!

    It's a very important point that you have raised, as, like you, I much prefer Zelenka on period instruments - provided that they are well played! In many ways, however, "period" and "modern" practices have come together in recent years and the former dogmatisms have declined. Players can now cross the boundaries, not only in style, but also on the instruments themselves.

    I agree about the ambiguity of much of this group's publicity. I now have the disc in question and the notes refer to the musicians playing on "historic, though modernised instruments using bows from various periods..." This could equally refer to Heifetz and his Strad. The group photo is also unhelpful.

    On the other hand, the portrait of Radek Baborák just about shows a horn with a crook and Google reveals his experience on the baroque instrument. Google equally shows the solo violinist in the group to be expert on the baroque violin and, especially, the director of the sessions to be a baroque specialist. However the second horn, Andrej Žust, is not shown as having any such expertise.

    The proof of the pudding is in the hearing, of course. The strings to my ears have minimal vibrato but don't seem as sweet as some of the best period players.The wind players are lively but I don't hear the rich woody bassoon tone that I associate with the best period exponents. The horns are rich, accurate and lack a brassy edge; they are not however fruity, and I will accept that they are not valved instruments.

    Tempi are fast, most especially in the Allemande, which is taken at twice the speed of Suk, Bern or Sonnentheil. This of course changes the character entirely and the performance seems not to have been heard by the writer of the notes, who refers to Hypocondrie and "violent vapours of black bile...... transience and futility." Even if these things can be attributed to the music as presented in the other versions, they are certainly not present here!

    Jiri Belohlavek and the BBC Symphony have just released on ONYX 4061 a marvellous 3xCD set of all six symphonies which is worth anyone's money for a powerful experience.

    If you're on the lookout for just 2 symphonies, I would recommend numbers 4 and 6, and any of the available versions would give a good idea of them. In total contrast, his short ballet Revue de Cuisine is enormous fun, with kitchen utensils dancing the Charleston!

    Martinu wrote a huge amount of music in widely [indeed wildly!] differing genres and much of it has been available on records for quite a long time. I would disagree in one respect over the parallels in that I have found, proportionately, more note-spinning in Martinu than in Zelenka. I could certainly never have embarked on, or continued to maintain, a survey of all available CDs as I have with Zelenka!

    On Wednesday 18th May at St Johns Smith Square, as part of the Lufthansa Baroque Festival, Ensemble Inegal with Viktora and Gabriela Eibenova will perform Zelenka's Alma Redemptoris and Salve Regina together with Bach's solo cantata Ich Habe Genug and two Concerti by Brentner, numbers 1 & 4.
    Booking is open and I have my tickets!

    On Thursday 16th June 2011 at 8-30 pm the second Lamentation for Good Friday will be performed by Marcus Farnsworth bass with the Academy of Ancient Music at Christ Church Spitalfields in London as part of the Spitalfields Festival. There will also be instrumental works by Handel, Vivaldi and Wassenaer.

    The Zelenka is programmed to balance Bach's great solo cantata Ich Habe Genug BWV82 in a separate concert by the same forces earlier that evening.

    Details from