Notes and Editorial Reviews
Franz Xaver Brixi was Prague's most highly regarded composer during the 18th century. Though he lived a relatively short life, dying of tuberculosis at 41, he was incredibly prolific, especially in his output for the church, which numbers no less than 400 works. The oratorio Judas Iscariot, composed for the Holy Feast of Good Friday, dates from the 1760s when Brixi was at the height of his creative abilities--and on evidence here, that level must have been very high indeed.
From the onset we become aware of Brixi's consummate orchestral skills. The Introduzione, marked "Spirituoso", brims with a rhythmically charged energy reminiscent more of the Neapolitan school than of Bohemian composers during this period. The string writing sounds wonderfully fresh, and the winds (especially the bassoons and oboes) are certainly put through their paces. Following is an equally dramatic Recitativ and Aria by tenor Jiri Vinklarek in the role of Judas. Notwithstanding Vinklarek's committed delivery, even more striking are the texts. Instead of relying on well-trod Biblical verse, Brixi substitutes newly written and often highly original poems. Especially effective in this scene is the way the music abruptly accents Vinklarek's frequent use of the word "thunderbolts!", which he coyly declares in both an urgent yet benignly swaggering fashion.
The slower, more pensive moments are equally impressive. For instance, in her single scene contralto Pavla Ksicova is absolutely captivating at a treacherously slow tempo--yet never at the expense of the musical line or expressive sincerity. Similarly, soprano Ludmila Vernerova offers equally compelling performances.
Collectors of this repertoire should be aware that they may already own this recording, since this performance was previously available on the Bonton label, briefly distributed in the U.S. in the mid 1990s. Supraphon has cleaned up the sound a bit, with more convincing balances between the soloists and the orchestra. The choir in the finale sounds more richly detailed, and noticeably more forward in the mix. Highly recommended.
--John Greene, ClassicsToday.com