"Its really sad how small the classical canon has grown, and even more so how few people listen to classical music at all. The composer Jan Dismas Zelenka is one of the many neglected masters of the late Baroque, and these Lamentations are certainly among his chief works. Their style is difficult for modern listeners to place, lying somewhere between the Baroque and the Rococo but with a hint of Renaissance humanism just out of reach. In fact, I believe they were written just a year or so after Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (1721), but Bach himself was very old-fashioned. This recording is infused with a kind of scholarly pathos and is very likely the top contender for performances of this work. If you like this kind of stuff I suggest you check out some of Zelenka's instrumental works (try ASIN: B0000034ZD Composizione per Orchestra performed by Collegium 1704), the St. Matthew Passion by Bach (1727, ASIN: B000002S0T under Klemperer with Schwarzkopf), and Pergolesi's gorgeous Stabat Mater (1736 ASIN: B000001G5Q). For a little more of a reach, try the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis from the mid 17th century. Happy Listening!"
If Handel and Bach are the first two members of the Baroque Musical Trinity, then Jan Dismas Zelenka must be the third, for his music is fast coming to the fore, and more and more recordings of it are being made.
Jan Zelenka (1679-1745) studied with Fux in Vienna(1715) and Lotti in Venice(1717), returning to Dresden in 1719, where in 1735 he acquired the post of 'church composer'.
Zelenka's highly individualitic idiom no doubt militated against general favor, although he was clearly admired by discerning contemporaries. The bulk of his output was religious music, including three oratorios, a sacred opera about St. Wenceslas and twelve masses,as well as many smaller works.
Zelenka's music sounds somewhat like J.S.Bach, but it is different enough from Bach's structure and instrumentation. However,like Bach, he valued counterpoint, fugal technique and careful craftsmenship, besides its sonorous color which is shown by the use of obligato wind instruments and a complex chromatic harmony.
The typrical 'Zelenkaisms' are: frequent alternation between immediately adjoining major and minor in the same chord, chromatic and contrasts such as orchestra unison as well as vocal unison, sequence of quickly moving descending scales ending in unexpected harmonies. These characteristics are carefully balanced and integrated into a translucent bar structure of heavy Italian influence(think of Scarlatti or Lotti), even though the specific personal elements are in no way reduced.
In the Christian Religion there is a Service called 'Tenebrae' celebrated by the Western Church. It takes place on the evening before Maunday Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, which are the last three days of Holy Week. Many composers through the years have composed music for the Liturgy of this service which is from 'The Lamentations of Jeremiah'. A few of these who have written musical settings are Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Francois Couperin and of course Zelenka.
These 'Lamentations of Jeremiah' are beautifully conceived by Zelenka who seems to have a knack for providing wonderful melodies imbued with mysticism and at the same time a sense of anticipation, for both chorus and orchestra. Each lamentation is about twenty-four minutes long and is split into two parts that contain some crafty and intelligent writing.
The three soloists are quite superb in their portrayals of Christ's Passion. Having said all of this I need to mention the skill involved in performing these Lamentations. The three excellent soloists are: Michael Chance (countertenor) who sings: Lamentations II for Maunday Thursday and Easter Eve. His voice is warm, almost hypnotic and a pure joy hear. Michael George (bass) sings Lamentations I for Maunday Thursday and Lamentations II for Good Friday. His voice is deeply sonorous, but without a 'rumbling' quality that often muddies up the clarity of the words; a listening pleasure. John Mark Ainsley (tenor) sings Lamentation I for Good Friday and Easter Eve. He sings precisely with clear diction and an intense tone quality that is very pleasing to the ear. They each have lengthy solo passages and perform them within a proper emotional framework.
BBC-Nicholas Anderson 'These soloists are on their accustomed strong form, shading the music with sensitivity and evenness of tone. But the warmly colored and gently inflected support provided by the Chandos Baroque Players deserves equal praise'.
The recording comes with excellent liner notes and a complete text."
The Bohemian Bach
M. De Sapio | Alexandria, VA | 01/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"We have been conditioned to think of Bach's style as peculiar to him, or a direct outgrowth of the Lutheran tradition. Just ten minutes' acquaintance with the music of Jan Zelenka (1679-1745) will shatter this notion. Zelenka (accent on the first syllable) was a Bohemian-German Catholic composer working within the traditions of Latin liturgical music whose works are very Bach-like in their depth and originality. While Zelenka is not yet widely known to the general public, I believe that his time will come soon. Fellow Bohemian Biber has seen a huge revival in recent years, and it is surely only a matter of time before Zelenka will be recognized for what he is - one of the major figures of the high baroque.
Zelenka's setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, written in 1722, is cast as a set of cantatas (comprising arias, recitatives, and arioso) for solo voice and orchestra. Written for Holy Week, they pass from anguish to warmth and childlike hopefulness in the final two major-key Lamentations for Easter Eve. The performances of Michael George, Michael Chance, John Mark Ainsley, and the Chandos Baroque Players have a radiant, mystical aura about them; they are flawless and lovingly rendered. One thing about these pieces that I found surprising and touching: Zelenka gives some of the most florid music, not to the text of the Lamentations itself (which is set largely in recitative and arioso) but to the Hebrew letters at the head of each stanza. An analogy with the florid initials of illuminated manuscripts, perhaps?
Zelenka's music demands to be heard, and this budget-priced disc is the ideal means of discovering this great composer.
Caveat emptor: This CD is also available, with identical cover art, at full price. Don't be fooled!"
Lamentation for the End of Time ...
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 03/06/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"... for the fall of Jerusalem, of course, by the Prophet Jeremiah, but quite appropriate for Our Times as well, with the once proud City on the Hill of democratic capitalism in shambles of its own creation.
The Lamentations texts were recited and set to music as part of the liturgical services of Holy Week, at Matins on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (by modern clock/calendar). The usual service was tri-partite, with only the first two sections set to music, as is the case with Zelenka. Many composers have left settings of the Lamentations; recordings are available right now for those of Brumel, Tallis, Palestrina, White, Lassus, Massaino, de Orto, Cavalieri, Durante, Rosenmüller, Stravinsky, Ginastera, Martynov, Schnittke, and perhaps others. Let me crawl out to the end of the limb, and declare that, to my ears, Zelenka's setting is the most extraordinary, the most emotionally potent of all.
Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) was the son of a small-town organist in Bohemia. He was educated in Prague at a Jesuit college, he traveled at least briefly to Vienna and to Italy, and his musical tradition was that of the Italian-Viennese catholic composers - Caldara and Fux, for instance. Opportunity took him away from that musical ambience, however, to spend the bulk of his career in Dresden, in the shadow of the German-school Kapellmeister JD Heinichen. In a sense, Zelenka seems to have hit some kind of 'glass ceiling' in his career, never receiving the more prestigious appointments he sought and deserved.
Zelenka these days is often compared to JS Bach, a comparison put forward both by admirers of his work and by Czech nationalists in music. The comparison is justified; Zelenka's virtues, as a composer of the deepest profundity and theoretical acumen, are exactly those of Bach. Both men were simultaneously 'old-fashioned' according to the popular tastes of their maturity, yet extremely novel and adventuresome in their explorations of the harmonic resources of their era. Both of them were unafraid to write music that challenged the skills of their players and singers to the maximum, as well as the musical sensibilities of their audiences. Both of them left some of their grandest compositions unperformed during their lifetimes, unheard except in the minds of their composers until our day.
These Lamentations were probably performed in the Electoral chapel in Dresden. The manuscript that has survived is dated 1722. They are scored for solo voice and a small orchestra; the Chandos Players use recorders, oboes, violins, viola, cello, bassoon, double bass, and organ. Zelenka's instrumental writing is remarkably 'progressive;' earlier composers had certainly exploited the affective color of individual instruments, and written idiomatically for them, but Zelenka boldly mixes and matches the timbres of the whole orchestra into an expressive palette, a symphonic whole. It's this symphonic coloration that puts modern listeners to thinking of Haydn and Mozart when they hear Zelenka. On the other hand, the dark chromatics and eccentric voice leading of these Lamentations, especially those for Maundy Thursday, put 'yours truly' to thinking backwards, to Gesualdo and Palestrina. It's one of the odd scraps of biographical knowledge of Zelenka that have survived, by the way, that he was a avid collector of Renaissance musical manuscripts.
Although the full series of six Lamentations were not intended to be performed together, but rather in pairs of two on three consecutive evenings, they form a remarkably unified whole. Even with much reiteration of the words of the text -- each Lament concludes with an extended treatment of the refrain "Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum -- and with every movement adagio, there is a potent current of emotion in this music, from the desolation expressed in the first lamentaion, sung by bass Michael George, to a kind of serenity and consolation in the last Lamentation, sung by countertenor Michael Chance, an affective transformation supported by the simplest progressive from minor key to major. The only other work of the 18th Century to which this composition might be compared is Haydn's sublime string quartet based on his oratorio of The Seven Last Words.
Chance and George are joined by tenor John Mark Ainsley, and all three sing at the acme of their talents. This is a recording of the highest musicianship in every aspect. Is it too early in the month to declare it the Giordano Bruno "must-buy" CD for March?"
classical newb | 01/22/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Among Zelenka's work this might be the least accessible one; at least that is how I felt when I encountered "Lamentation of Jeremiah". Perhaps it this the not-so-much exiting religious aspect that made me feel that way. But after 10th listen (according itune play count) I could appreciate how satisfying this record is. It has all the devotional feeling of a traditional format of "Lamentation of Jeremiah" a Catholic musical idiom (btw, I am not claiming to know anything; I not even a Catholic. I just know that past composers like Palestrina and others wrote their own Lamentation of Jeremiah), but Zelenka pushes beyond that by giving a penetrating touch of warm humanity that is very hard to find elsewhere. This feeling is so deep that any person who can invest some time to introspect this music cannot avoid feeling the tranquility. I know that most of the mood of the music is "Lamentation", (duh) but after each section ends you find some sort of comfort (like after finishing a prayer) an uplifting resolution that gives purpose to live on through this tough life with many let downs.
Alright, I know that what I wrote here is bunch of random petty insights, but I wrote it anyway just to see what I could come up with."