Václav Luks / Collegium 1704

Jan Dismas Zelenka: Sonatas, ZWV 181

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Jan Dismas Zelenka: Sonatas, ZWV 181 Review

by James Manheim

These ensemble sonatas, designated as being for "2 oboi (violino) e 2 bassi obbligati," were among the first works by the Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka to reach Western audiences, having been rediscovered by oboist Heinz Holliger in the 1970s. Still, they are not common works, and this new version by the Czech-based (although in this chamber recording, thoroughly international) early music group Collegium 1704, named for the year Zelenka came on the scene in Prague, is most welcome. The "2 bassi obbligati" consist of a bassoon and a continuo group, here a hefty trio of double bass, lute, and director Václav Luks' harpsichord. In outward shape, five of the six sonatas follow the four-movement, slow-fast-slow-fast layout popularized by Arcangelo Corelli, but a closer look reveals a composer who probably knew the music of Vivaldi and Bach well and was thinking along very similar lines by the early 1720s, when these works were probably composed. The fifth concerto, with its octave orchestral passages breaking out into ornate solos, shows the clear influence of Vivaldi, and the virtuosity of the solo wind writing is rivaled only by that of Vivaldi during this period. Bachian counterpoint is everywhere, with many of the solos consisting of unique and intricate oboe-bassoon duos. Sample the gigue finale of the fourth sonata to hear these, and also to hear how Zelenka intersperses among the gigue rhythms little breaks of a more cadenza-like character. The overall lengths of the sonatas themselves are also noteworthy. Luks' ornate, but never overdone, harpsichord continuo realizations are another major draw here, as is the comprehensive booklet that, among other things, describes (but doubts) a theory that these sonatas contain coded homosexual messages. A major Baroque release of music by a composer who looks better and better with each passing decade.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Sonatas (6) ZWV 181
1 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 03:17 Amazon
2 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 04:50 Amazon
3 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 03:31 Amazon
4 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 05:11 Amazon
5 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 04:01 Amazon
6 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 06:43 Amazon
7 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 03:44 Amazon
8 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 05:30 Amazon
9 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 03:58 Amazon
10 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 04:26 Amazon
11 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 03:00 Amazon
12 Collegium 1704 / Václav Luks 05:08 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick