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Ensemble Marsyas - Zelenka Sonatas - American Record Guide


20 March 2013
American Record Guide
Peter Loewen

After studying with Johann Joseph Fux at the Imperial court of Vienna, the Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) took up a position at the Saxon court of Dresden in 1719. Janice B Stockigt suggests in her notes that it was Zelenka's desire to make a lasting impression on his patron that is responsible for the peculiar genius of the sonatas on this release. Sonata V in F and Sonata VI in C minor for two oboes and bassoon, and Sonata III in B-flat for oboe, violin, and bassoon, are three of six Zelenka composed some time around 1722 and 1723. Judging from their virtuosic demands, he must have been working with incredibly skilled musicians. Stockigt points to research that has identified several musicians in Dresden and Prague whom Zelenka might have had in mind.

These sonatas are first rate. They actually bear some resemblance to Vivaldi's style, which may stand to reason, if it can be established that Zelenka visited Venice in 1712, as some scholars believe. Zelenka also shows some innovation in sonatas V and VI through his writing for four independent parts-a striking departure from the familiar trio structure. Slow movements are wonderfully expressive, and the fast movements include the most challenging passage writing for bassoon and oboe that I have ever heard from this period.

Bassoonist Peter Whelan and oboists Josep Domenech Lafont and Molly Marsh, show complete mastery over their baroque instruments. The level of their virtuosity is breathtaking, but so is their sensitivity to Zelenka's phrasing. The contrast between the three instruments in Sonata III, adding Monica Huggett (violin) to the ensemble, yields exquisite sonority. The slow movements, marked Adagio and Largo, are delicious. An outstanding recording. Notes are in English.


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