Ensemble Marsyas - Zelenka Sonatas - Gramophone

These six exuberantly virtuoso sonatas for two oboes, bassoon and continuo are the works that brought Zelenka into our modern day lives in the early 1970's, when Heinz Hollinger, Maurice Bourgue and Klaus Thunemann wowed listeners with their dazzling premiere recording (Arch,10/74). That was on modern instruments, relieving some of the technical difficulties posed by this unforgivingly athletic and stamina-sapping music, and it is perhaps not surprising that period players have been a touch wary of entering the field. There are commendable versions from period oboe doyens Paul Dombrecht and Marcel Ponseele (Accent, 3/89) and Ensemble Zefiro (Auvidis, 6/94 and 2/96); but in 1999 the scenery was sufficiently unchanged for Hollinger and Co to record them again (ECM,8/99). Now here is a disc offering three of those sonatas from a bright young group of wind players based in Edinburgh but with a multinational line-up. 

There is a highly capable playing, with expert tuning, smooth lines, and techniques apparently taxed only by the quickfire repeated notes in Sonata No6. The sound is also wonderfully clear and well balanced, not just between the three winds but also between them and the springy continuo combination of harpsichord and theorbo. In the Vivaldian Sonata No5 I wanted a bit more stamping energy and there could have been some stronger long-range shaping to match the impressive build through the third movement of Sonata No6; but in Sonata No3, where a violin replaces one of the oboes, Monica Huggett arrives to lend richness and warmth of line. Three sonatas do not make a long CD and Marsyas add at the end a lightly scored inner movement of Zelenka's one and only Simphonie. Ending on a half-close is odd but let's hope it is meant to point the way up to a second volume.

17 October 2012