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Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745)
Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis conspicua orbi Regia Bohemiae Corona (Under the Olive Tree of Peace and the Palm Tree of Virtue the Crown of Bohemia Splendidly Shines Before the Whole World) (1723)
Noémi Kiss and Anna Hlavenková (soprano)
Markus Forster (countertenor)
Jaroslav Březina and Adam Zdunikowski (tenor)
AleŠ Procházka (bass)
Musica Florea, Musica Aeterna, Ensemble Philidor, Boni Pueri/Marek Štryncl
Bonus: Facsimile of the original printed libretto from 1723 (in PDF format) on CD1
rec. July 2000, Rothmayer Hall of Prague Castle
SUPRAPHON SU 4113-2 [39:50 + 55:28]

Experience Classicsonline

The cover is rather beautiful and the disc fits neatly into Supraphon’s ‘Music from Eighteenth-Century Prague’ series but one small word of warning needs to be given. This release is not - and makes no pretence to be - a new one, even though the livery is part of that ongoing marque. It was recorded back in 2000, released in 2001 and received a Cannes Classical Award in 2003. So, if you possess SU3502-2 you have this same recording, though this latest incarnation does something that that old one couldn’t do; in the first CD you can now access a facsimile of the original printed libretto from 1723 in Latin and German in PDF format.
Zelenka produced music for the 1723 coronation in Prague of the Habsburg emperor Charles VI. The local dignitaries laid on an allegorical play - fortunately excised here; we get just the music - of, by all accounts, some considerable obsequiousness. Prague’s Jesuits went merrily to town with a panegyric lauding the Emperor as Fons inexhaustus immortalis gloriæ.  This obligatory salute was accompanied by some Jesuitical political one-upmanship, as well. But though the text is hardly worth preserving, the music is another matter.
Zelenka’s music doesn’t, apparently, comment on the text, which is another reason not to mourn its excision. Rather, it offers stand-alone pleasures, many of them strongly Italianate. The opening Symphonia is cut from his very finest cloth, a terrifically involving fast movement, inventive, colourful, rhythmically buoyant and ear-catching. This, one feels, was Zelenka saying to the Emperor and the assembled nobility: just listen to me! It doesn’t harm matters that it’s laid out in a quasi-operatic three parts. The ensuing choruses and arias and associated recitatives offer taxing divisions, considerable opportunities for lyrical expressions, and also for crisp orchestral commentaries and interjections.  The aria that ends the first ‘actus’ is a lovely, lilting one, and is one of Zelenka’s most inspired moments in the Melodrama.
Zelenka reserved some particularly rich moments for the chalumeau and it can be heard in the slow aria (No.22) in the second ‘actus’ - where it’s played with haunting warmth  by Christian Laitherer. A word here, then, about the orchestra, which is an original band (A’= 415 Hz) directed by Marek Štryncl with incision and precision. Its contributions are invariably appropriate and arresting, so too those of the individual choirs - Boni Pueri, the boys’ choir, makes its own presence felt as well, and their very distinctive bright sound can be enjoyed in the second part of the work.
The solo singers are rather variable. The bass is quite light, though good, the tenor is classy, the sopranos pure voiced, and the counter-tenor a bit hooty.
If you missed the Melodrama first time around, this new incarnation has been beautifully presented in a slipcase and distinguished looking booklet.
Jonathan Woolf  

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