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Jan ZACH (1713-1773) Requiem solemne in C minor (c.1737-41) [28:46] Vesperae de Beata Virgine in D major (c.1637-41) [28:56]
Michaela Šrůmová (soprano), Sylva Čmugrová (alto), Čeněk Svoboda (tenor), Jaromír Nosek (bass)
Musica Florea Collegium Floreum/Marek Štryncl
rec. live, April 2016, Church of the Virgin Mary under the Chain, Prague SUPRAPHON SU4209-2 [57:48]
Jan Zach was part of the great Bohemian composing diaspora of the 1730s and 1740s. Though not born in the city, he grew up in Prague where he worked as a professional organist and won a series of commissions in the late 1730s for a sequence of pieces to celebrate the feast day of St John of Nepomuk. Soon afterwards he left Bohemia, enduring a torrid time as Kapellmeister of the orchestra of the court of the Prince-Elector of Mainz. After this he seems to have taken to a freelance life, travelling throughout Europe. By all accounts he lived modestly and diligently and never sought advancement.
His biography makes him a most fitting candidate for Supraphon’s long-established series of music from Eighteenth-Century Prague. There are two large-scale works of which the Vespers are making their first appearance on disc. Both were recorded live though I assume patching sessions were necessary because, as so often in these circumstances, the performances are technically excellent and the audience noise notable largely by its absence.
The Requiem solemne was for long one of Zach’s best-remembered works. Its Kyrie was extracted and transcribed for the organ and had a long after-life well into the twentieth century as an independent piece. And indeed, the boldness of its conception is striking, as it passes through all twelve tones of the chromatic scale forming a concentrated two-minute exegesis of Baroque fugal procedure. There are novel compositional features in the Requiem, which draws on models established by that most distinguished and influential of Czech composers, Zelenka, as well as Italianate models like Caldara. I even detect the influence of Pergolesi in the concluding Lux aeterna, though I’m not sure if Zach could have known the 1736 Stabat Mater. The Requiem has its conventional procedures – a kind of Euro-cosmopolitanism of expression – but it’s in its more coloratura moments, in its arias and in the distinctive choral writing that it comes into its own. The choral sighing figures, the pathos of the overlapping vocal writing in the Agnus Dei – all these are distinctive and attractive. Sorrow and exultation are here held in a true balance.
The companion Marian vespers, always a popular feature of Prague’s musical life at the time, offers a more affirmative work, perhaps more revealing of the so-called Pre-Classicism that Zach was to embrace. Although it’s a more avuncular piece it possesses some dramatic word setting and elements that may remind the listener of his great contemporary, Vivaldi. The psalm settings may also remind the listener occasionally of developments in Viennese classicism, though some of the contrapuntal writing remains conventional.
Marek Štryncl with his Musica Florea forces directs with great aplomb, carefully delineating between the very different demands of both pieces. The soloists are mostly attentive to the technical flourishes as well as to the lyricism embedded in the music – I admired soprano Michaela Šrůmová the most in these respects - but plaudits must also go the orchestral and especially choral forces. Jonathan Woolf