Zelenka/Heinichen: Te Deum/Mass Dresden

Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

It’s easy to see–and hear–why Bach admired the music of Jan Zelenka. How can anyone resist? If you’re wondering what I’m talking about (Zelenka’s music has received inexplicably meager attention until fairly recently), just get this disc and go right to track 10. This concluding section of the Te Deum is as inventive and downright exciting as baroque music gets–infectious, dancing rhythms, soaring soprano lines, ingeniously interwoven contrapuntal lines that seem to bounce off each other, and full-bodied orchestral accompaniment–all of which makes its impact in the space of two minutes. But this is the sort of compelling music that characterizes the work’s entire 28 minutes, varied with an alto solo, duets for two sopranos and for tenor and bass, and full sections for chorus. From the very Bach-like orchestral introduction to the above-mentioned rousing conclusion, this remarkable piece should take a place among the 18th century’s standard repertoire–next to Bach’s own quick-paced, tightly-knit flash of genius, the Magnificat. (For more Zelenka, type Q3763 in Search Reviews.)

In a different vein, Johann Heinichen’s Mass No. 9 in D flows every bit as freely and beautifully and with its own complete command of style and structure. It’s a magnificent, majestic work with powerful, elegantly built choruses and fine solos. The fugal writing is especially notable. And so are the world-class performances by choir and orchestra, whose enthusiasm for this music comes through in every bar. Such dynamic, musically affecting, and technically sound singing and playing doesn’t come easily, and conductor Hans-Christoph Rademann also deserves credit for the commendable results. Particular mention must go to tenor Marcus Ullmann’s rendition of Heinichen’s Qui tollis, a lovely, surprising little gem reminiscent of and equal to Handel’s better efforts.

The disc’s almost apologetic subtitle (it only appears in German in small type on the back cover) is “Music in Dresden in the time of Augustus the Strong”. If you visit Dresden you certainly will learn of the considerable cultural and architectural achievements of Augustus–and perhaps also of his remarkable failures in battle, leading at least one tour guide to refer to him as “Augustus, the, well, not so strong”; but there’s no denying that, especially on evidence of recordings such as this, musical life in the city during the 18th century was unrivalled, and there is much more waiting to be rediscovered, hopefully performed by musicians of this caliber. (Although notes are in English, texts are in Latin and German only–and, just for the record, Zelenka died in 1745, not 1754 as printed on the back cover.)

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Recording Details:

JAN DISMAS ZELENKA - Te Deum for double choir & orchestra

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