Notes and Editorial Reviews
Trio Sonatas Nos. 4–6,
Pasticcio Barocco (period instruments)
HÉRISSON 05 (50:08)
Sometime around the year 1722, give or take, Jan Dismas Zelenka produced a set of six
Sonates en trio
while in residence at Dresden. This is in and of itself not an unusual, since the trio sonata was one of the all-purpose chamber genres of the time. What is unusual is that Zelenka wrote very few of them; this set appears
to be all that has survived, and even these exist in versions for three or four instruments (also known as ZWV 181). Why he wrote them is also unknown, for although the ensemble in Dresden was known to have at hand very proficient players, Zelenka seems to have all but ignored opportunities to compose secular instrumental chamber music at other times during his tenure, and there is at least one contemporaneous account that makes him seem like a bit of a misanthropic hermit who “lived a rather lonely and isolated life” there. His colleague Johann Pisendel once compared him to an almond, perhaps a nut hidden within a number of layers of protection, rind and shell. There is no doubt, however, that in the sphere of sacred music he was a master, and it may well have been the invidious comparison with his copious and powerful church works that caused Bach not to receive an appointment in Dresden he sought.
In any case, these sonatas, here as a trio, demonstrate that he was a capable composer of chamber works, even though he didn’t take advantage of it like, say, Telemann. The scoring is ambiguous; here the Pasticcio Barocco ensemble has chosen to interpret the two upper voices as being meant for oboes, with the often obligato “third” voice being a bassoon. This is entirely believable, although it could just as well have been stringed instruments instead. This disc does not do the entire set, but rather only the second half. These three works have two in minor keys, No. 4 in G Minor and No. 6 in C Minor, both in four movements, flanking No. 5, a more “modern” work in three movements and in the key of F Major. Oddly enough, on the disc they are done in reverse order, so that the decidedly old-fashioned final sonata is first. Three of the four movements have no tempo markings, though their order is easy enough to determine. Of particular note is the rather gnarly fugue of the second, and the effete, mincing minuet of the final movement. The third, marked
, begins tentatively with a wandering bassoon line, each of the upper voices entering at odd intervals as almost a musical afterthought. The F-Major has obvious Czech folk pieces that appear in unison, after which the bassoon has a nice virtuoso variation, following which the oboes tumble about each other with rolling triplets. There is even a hint of counterpoint at various moments, all before the entire movement settles on a pedal point and final unison. The second movement is quite Vivaldian in scope, with a steady pulsation in the continuo, while the upper voices float effortlessly. The final movement is based upon a fugue that has a rather nicely syncopated main theme. The final work, the Fourth Sonata, is perhaps the most conventional of the bunch on this disc, with some interesting if not entirely unexpected harmonic twists. The interplay between the two upper voices is particularly clear in the final movement, where the independent lines are stabilized through the use of a sustained upper pedal point.
These works, being what they are, are not absent from the discography. Even oboist Heinz Holliger did them with precisely this combination on Brilliant Classics, and another complete set for this combination is available on Accent from a group of Dutch musicians, while a Claves disc uses oboe and violin as an alternative. I am also aware of no fewer than a dozen recordings, including several other complete sets. Thus this particular disc with only half of them does have competition out there. What is interesting, however, is that Pasticcio Barocco performs with a great deal of clarity and precision, which makes the often intermingled lines stand out. The thicker continuo group, consisting of a harpsichord, theorbo, and contrabass, also gives it a nice depth that can be flexible in the slower movements, for instance. It is a pity that the ensemble did not release all of the sonatas in a single album, but one might hope that the second disc with the first three will appear soon, for altogether it would make a formidable set and be well worth obtaining for your Baroque collection.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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