JEREMIAH LAMENTS-SKILLED SINGERS PRESENT-ZELENKA'S CONTENT
If Handel and Bach are the first two members of the Baroque Musical Trinity, then Jan Dismas Zelenka must be the third, for his music is fast coming to the fore, and more and more recordings of it are being made.
Jan Zelenka (1679-1745) studied with Fux in Vienna(1715) and Lotti in Venice(1717), returning to Dresden in 1719, where in 1735 he acquired the post of 'church composer'.
Zelenka's highly individualitic idiom no doubt militated against general favor, although he was clearly admired by discerning contemporaries. The bulk of his output was religious music, including three oratorios, a sacred opera about St. Wenceslas and twelve masses,as well as many smaller works.
Zelenka's music sounds somewhat like J.S.Bach, but it is different enough from Bach's structure and instrumentation. However,like Bach, he valued counterpoint, fugal technique and careful craftsmenship, besides its sonorous color which is shown by the use of obligato wind instruments and a complex chromatic harmony.
The typrical 'Zelenkaisms' are: frequent alternation between immediately adjoining major and minor in the same chord, chromatic and contrasts such as orchestra unison as well as vocal unison, sequence of quickly moving descending scales ending in unexpected harmonies. These characteristics are carefully balanced and integrated into a translucent bar structure of heavy Italian influence(think of Scarlatti or Lotti), even though the specific personal elements are in no way reduced.
In the Christian Religion there is a Service called 'Tenebrae' celebrated by the Western Church. It takes place on the evening before Maunday Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, which are the last three days of Holy Week. Many composers through the years have composed music for the Liturgy of this service which is from 'The Lamentations of Jeremiah'. A few of these who have written musical settings are Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Francois Couperin and of course Zelenka.
These 'Lamentations of Jeremiah' are beautifully conceived by Zelenka who seems to have a knack for providing wonderful melodies imbued with mysticism and at the same time a sense of anticipation, for both chorus and orchestra. Each lamentation is about twenty-four minutes long and is split into two parts that contain some crafty and intelligent writing.
The three soloists are quite superb in their portrayals of Christ's Passion.
Having said all of this I need to mention the skill involved in performing these Lamentations. The three excellent soloists are: Michael Chance (countertenor) who sings: Lamentations II for Maunday Thursday and Easter Eve. His voice is warm, almost hypnotic and a pure joy hear. Michael George (bass) sings Lamentations I for Maunday Thursday and Lamentations II for Good Friday. His voice is deeply sonorous, but without a 'rumbling' quality that often muddies up the clarity of the words; a listening pleasure. John Mark Ainsley (tenor) sings Lamentation I for Good Friday and Easter Eve. He sings precisely with clear diction and an intense tone quality that is very pleasing to the ear. They each have lengthy solo passages and perform them within a proper emotional framework.
'These soloists are on their accustomed strong form, shading the music with sensitivity and evenness of tone. But the warmly colored and gently inflected support provided by the Chandos Baroque Players deserves equal praise'.
The recording comes with excellent liner notes and a complete text.