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Jan Dismas Zelenka: Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae.

Jan Dismas Zelenka Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae

Damien Guillon--alto, Daniel Johannsen--tenor, Tomas Krai--bass, Collegium Marianum, Jana Semeradova--artistic director. Text: Latin, English, German, French, Czech. Recorded: 2014. Released: 2014. TT: 74:15. DDD. 1 CD Supraphon SU 4173-2.

Zelenka's Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae have been relatively frequently performed at concerts, yet to date have only been recorded on four occasions. Written in 1722 and 1723 for the Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony in Dresden, the Lamentations were intended for the liturgy of the Service of Shadows during Holy Week. The Tenebrae religious ceremonies are served in twilight, at the beginning of a new day according to the old time measurement, on the eves of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The texts are from the Old Testament's Book of Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah. In Zelenka's setting, the reference to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587-6 BC is divided into three sections--the three Wednesday Lamentations are based on 1:1-14 (How doth the city sit solitary--The Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up); the three Thursday Lamentations on 2:8-15 (The Lord hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion--Is this the city that men call: The perfection of beauty, the joy of there whole earth?) and 3:1-9 (I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath - He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked); the three Friday lamentations on 3:22-29 (It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not--He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope), 4:1-6 (How is the gold become dim!--[Sodom] was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her) and 5:1-11 (Remember, o Lord, what is come upon us--They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah).

Each day of the Lamentations opens with the words "Incipit Lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae" (Here begins the Lamentation of Jeremiah the Prophet), independently set are the Hebrew letters starting the individual verses, and each Lamentation ends with the exclamation "Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum" (Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God). In the setting, the Hebrew letters are amply melodiously ornamented, the subsequent verses, in the form of dramatic recitatives, invite contemplation, which is broken by the urgent final call. Poignancy is perhaps the most apposite term to characterise any of Zelenka's sacred and secular pieces. It is worthwhile listening to them while concurrently following the texts; the composer's work with the word is remarkably detailed.

It is interesting to compare the reviewed CD with the recording of the Lamentationes released by the Hyperion label in 1991, which features the countertenor Michael Chance, the tenor John Mark Ainsley and the bass Michael George, accompanied by The Chandos Baroque Players. This performance is somewhat more "secular" than that of Collegium Marianum, one of a more ecclesiastical nature (this is especially audible when comparing the voices of Michael George and Tomas Krai, with Krai's delivery being less piercing, softer, and therefore, in my opinion, more suitable for this type of repertoire). On the Supraphon album, in the second Friday Lamentation the ensemble employs the chalumeau, prescribed by the composer himself, brilliantly played by Igor Frantisak (the instrument is not heard on the older recording--at the time when it was made the chalumeau was far from being commonly played by ensembles specialised in performing early music on period instruments; for that matter, is still not common today). The chalumeau is a woodwind instrument of the clarinet family, appearing in the 18th-century organological terminology as "vox humana". Not incidentally did Zelenka apply the chalumeau to underline the utmost agony, which is omnipresent in the texts of the Good Friday Lamentation, with two human voices wailing--the male alto and the chalumeau in the alto register. The Lamentationes are splendidly performed by Collegium Marianum under the ensemble's artistic director, Jana Semeradova. The booklet includes the texts from the Bible in the original Latin, as well as in English, German and Czech. The excellent accompanying comment, penned by Vaclav Kapsa, is also translated into French. The booklet provides information about both the ensemble and the soloists, and has an attractive sleeve, featuring Giovanni Bassano's painting Placing Christ's Body into the Tomb, owned by the National Gallery in Prague. A note in conclusion: If anyone feels the need to meditate, this recording affords the most suitable music for doing so--unwinding with Zelenka's Lamentations is much easier than when listening to the amorphous, artistically light-weight mass of common "chill-out" CDs, which instead of meeting their proclaimed purpose rather serve to irritate the attentive and informed listener.
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Author:Freemanova, Michaela
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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