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Lotti, Zelenka, Bach / Hengelbrock, Balthasar Neumann Ensemble

Hengelbrock / Balthasarneumann Ensemble
Release Date: 12/07/2010 
Label:  Deutsche Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 52684   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jan Dismas ZelenkaJohann Sebastian BachAntonio Lotti
Conductor:  Thomas Hengelbrock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Balthasar-Neumann EnsembleBalthasar-Neumann Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Another terrific installment in Hengelbrock's exploration of the choral music of Lotti, with splendid Bach and Zelenka performances as big bonuses.

This trilogy is based loosely on the Dresden connections between the Venetian Antonio Lotti, Bohemian Jan Dismas Zelenka and Thuringian Johann Sebastian Bach. Zelenka’s unconventional Miserere in C minor (Easter 1738) is a peculiar mixture of archaic music based on a ricercar by Frescobaldi and modern proto-classical movements. Hengelbrock leaps without reticence into the agitated music that opens and dramatically concludes the work (in comparison, Fiori Musicali’s performance seems coolly refined – Metronome, 3/08). The Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and Choir perform with
Read more full-blooded tension; Hengelbrock makes the fullest possible use of the plangent oboes and pulsating string chords but also ensures that the music-making never loses its focused precision. The abrupt conclusion leads cleverly into the sinfonia of Bach’s Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen. The famous chaconne chorus that conveys weeping is tenderly phrased; solo voices are used for the first entries only and are soon joined by the full complement of 18 singers. This is by no means unpleasant but the sudden change of gears from streamlined intimacy to a larger choral texture feels odd (curiously, Hengelbrock eschews the policy in an entirely “choral” recapitulation).

The crowning glory is Lotti’s Missa a tre cori. As Hengelbrock has proved before with his outstanding recordings of Lotti’s Requiem (9/99) and Missa Sapientiae (3/04), the Venetian master’s chiaroscuro writing is certainly not run-of-the-mill. The contrapuntal first phrases of the “Kyrie” possess extraordinary expressive quality and accomplishment, whereas the first section of the “Gloria” is an irresistible, dance-like celebration with jaunty rhythms and bold trumpet. Lotti’s controlled and sublime setting of “Et in terra pax” reveals the harmonically adventurous talent and flair for unexpected effects that evidently fascinated Bach and Handel, and some surprising choral harmonies in the ardent “Qui tollis” lifted me from my chair in astonishment and admiration for both the composer and his modern-day interpreters. This is nothing short of revelatory.

– David Vickers, Gramophone

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Unearthing unknown masterworks, such as the Lotti and the Zelenka, is something of a speciality for Thomas Hengelbrock, and it is hard to imagine a more intense interpretation of the Miserere.

Bach, Zelenka and Lotti on one disc - that seems a little odd. Bach and Zelenka knew each other as they lived and worked not that far away from each other, in Leipzig and Dresden respectively. But what about Lotti?
 
Antonio Lotti made his career in Venice, but was born in Hanover where his father was Kapellmeister. In Venice he became a pupil of Legrenzi. He started out as an alto singer and organist in San Marco. In 1693 he wrote his first opera, and his growing reputation as an opera composer brought him the invitation to write an opera for Dresden. Here he lived and worked from 1717 to 1719. He wasn't only an opera composer, though. When he came to Dresden he took with him some religious works he had written in Venice, and in Dresden he composed some more.
 
Zelenka, who for many years worked in the court orchestra in Dresden as double-bass player, copied a number of works by Lotti. Among them was the Missa Sapientiae; a copy of this mass has also been found in Bach's library. It is quite possible that it was through Zelenka that Bach became acquainted with Lotti's oeuvre. Thomas Hengelbrock recorded Lotti's Missa Sapientiae in 2002, and it was released together with Bach's Magnificat by deutsche harmonia mundi.
 
But there are not only historical reasons bringing together these composers on one disc. There are also some stylistic similarities between the three compositions which Thomas Hengelbrock has recorded. The main feature they have in common is that they contain both traditional and modern elements. They link with the traditional stile antico in that they include polyphonic sections. And in all three pieces dissonances and chromaticism are used for expressive reasons linking with the sung words. At the same time they contain elements which reflect contemporary fashion.
 
Zelenka's setting of the penitential Psalm 50 (51), 'Miserere mei Deus', is a perfect example of the mixture of old and new. It starts with an extended setting of the first verse of this psalm, which is dominated by chords in the strings in a very agitated rhythm, which are relentlessly repeated. The amount of dissonance in this section is quite unusual for the time. Next the text of the whole psalm is sung in a strict polyphonic style. It is based on an organ ricercar by Girolamo Frescobaldi, from his 'Fiori Musicali' of 1635. It is likely this was the main reason that this Miserere was received negatively. A diary of the time says: "Mr. Zelenka performed a Miserere of excessive length". It is probably not the actual time the performance took that caused this comment but rather its old-fashioned style. For a performance in the following year Zelenka added an aria for soprano which was written in modern galant style. This is the third movement, the first half of the doxology. This part is then set again for the tutti, and this is followed by the second half of the doxology. Then Zelenka returns to the opening verse. It is not a repetition of the first section, although elements from it are reused.
 
The Balthasar-Neumann-Choir and -Ensemble give good performances, in which the text expression comes off very well. It is disappointing, though, that the dense polyphonic texture of the second section results in the words being practically inaudible. More attention should have been given to a clear delivery of the text. Tanya Aspelmeier gives a good account of the solo part.
 
The cantata 'Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen' is one of Bach's most famous cantatas. It inspired Franz Liszt to one of his best-known organ works. It seems Bach also liked it: he composed the cantata in 1714 in Weimar, and performed it again in 1724 in Leipzig. The mood of the work is best caught in the accompanied recitative, a quotation from the Bible (Acts of the Apostles): "We must pass through great sadness that we come into God's kingdom".
 
The cantata begins with an expressive sinfonia, marked 'adagio assai'. The opening chorus has a dacapo form, and the A section is a chaconne over a chromatic bass which is repeated twelve times. It is here that the tradition comes to the fore, as well as in the scoring with two independent viola parts. The B section doesn't contain independent instrumental parts: the instruments are supposed to play colla parte with the voices - another feature of the stile antico.
 
Much more in line with the fashion of the time is the inclusion of a dacapo aria, 'Kreuz und Kronen sind verbunden', scored for alto, with an obbligato part for the oboe. In the tenor aria 'Seid getrost', the slide trumpet plays the melody of the chorale 'Jesu, meine Freude'. The German Bach scholar Alfred Dürr suggests Bach could have had the last stanza in mind: "Begone, mournful spirits, for the master of my joys, Jesus, is now arriving".
 
The tutti parts receive good performances from the choir and the orchestra. None of Bach’s expressive devices passes unnoticed. The rhythm of the bass aria 'Ich folge Christo nach' is under-exposed, though. The contralto Marion Eckstein sings her part beautifully, and so does the tenor Julian Podger, although in his aria I would have liked stronger contrast between the A and B sections. The bass Marek Rzepka is a bit bland, and there is a slight tremolo in his voice which I have noticed in other recordings in which he participated. The obbligato parts are well executed by Emma Black (oboe) and Paolo Bacchin (slide trumpet).
 
Old and new elements are also present in Antonio Lotti's Missa a tre cori, written for three groups, as the title indicates. This mass belongs to the genre of the 'missa brevis', consisting of Kyrie and Gloria only. The stile antico is particularly present in the Kyrie and returns in some sections of the Gloria.
 
The first Kyrie is very reminiscent of the opening of Zelenka's Miserere, in particular harmonically. Even rhythmically there is some similarity, although Lotti's rhythms are less agitated. In the Christe eleison the name 'Christe' is singled out. The second Kyrie contrasts the descending line and an ascending figure on the words "eleison" in the upper voices.
 
The Gloria begins with a dancing movement in jubilant mood, in which the trumpet participates. The next section, 'Et in terra pax', takes more than five minutes and reverts to the same kind of chords in the strings and strong dissonances we heard in the first Kyrie. The 'Gratias agimus' also begins with great harmonic tension which is then released in the second half. In 'Qui tollis peccata mundi' Lotti again makes use of fiery chords and sharp dissonances.
 
The most modern sections are 'Domine Deus' and 'Qui sedes'. The former is a wonderful trio for soprano, violin and basso continuo. 'Qui sedes' is scored for alto and obbligato oboe, with the lower strings and basso continuo. In 'Quoniam tu solus sanctus' the trumpet returns. Through homophony and long notes the name 'Jesu Christe' is singled out. The mass ends with a fugal section on the text 'Cum Sancto Spiritu'.
 
This is probably the very first recording of this mass, and it is a beautiful and highly expressive work. It is easy to understand that Zelenka and Bach were interested in Lotti's music, and in particular Zelenka seems to have been influenced by Lotti. The qualities of Lotti's mass setting are fully explored by choir and orchestra, with excellent contributions of the vocal and instrumental soloists. Only Bernard Landauer is a little disappointing in 'Qui sedes'.
 
Unearthing unknown masterworks is something of a speciality for Thomas Hengelbrock. Both Lotti's Missa Sapientiae and the Missa a tre cori are masterpieces - evidence that Lotti's oeuvre is well worth further appraisal. Bach's cantata is available in a number of other recordings. The performance on this disc is good, but not the main reason to commend this CD.
 
It is both Lotti's mass and the Miserere by Zelenka which make this disc especially attractive. The Zelenka has been recorded before, and some time ago I reviewed a recording by Penelope Rapson. But Hengelbrock's interpretation is simply superior, and in fact it is hard to imagine a more intense interpretation of Zelenka's Miserere.

– Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Miserere in C minor, ZWV 57 by Jan Dismas Zelenka
Conductor:  Thomas Hengelbrock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble,  Balthasar-Neumann Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1738; Bohemia 
2. Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Conductor:  Thomas Hengelbrock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble,  Balthasar-Neumann Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1714; Weimar, Germany 
3. Missa a tre cori by Antonio Lotti
Conductor:  Thomas Hengelbrock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble,  Balthasar-Neumann Choir
Period: Baroque 

Featured Sound Samples

Miserere in C minor (Zelenka): Misere I
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12 (Bach): Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
Missa a tre cori (Lotti): Qui tollis

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