Zelenka: Italian Arias

Hana Blažiková, Markéta Cukrová, Tomaš Šelc SAB, Ensemble Tourbillon, Petr Wagner
69:11
Accent ACC 24306

Zelenka may have written these eight arias as part of a strategy to be appointed Hasse’s assistant in the Dresden opera house. He was surely a victim of fashion because fans of his music will recognise all the trademarks of his style – an easy facility with melody and harmonic sleight of hand; but times were changing and simplicity had replaced erudition as the measure of good taste. No-one had the appetite for listening to arias of such great length and while musically beautiful there is no denying a certain lack of drama or excitement.

The three singers are – without exception – outstanding: Hana Blažiková has the lion’s share with five arias and she uses the broad palette of her radiant voice to excellent effect throughout; alto Markéta Cukrová has two, in which she demonstrates not only amazing technique but also an impressive range of colour; it is the upper reaches of Tomaš Šelc’s bass-baritone voice that most impresses in his single offering (the last on the disc), with ringing clarity and impeccable tuning.

When it comes to the instrumental contribution, I have to say there are one reservation; Zelenka would never have conceived of this music being played by single strings – surviving performing sets from Dresden often have three copies of violins and basses, sometimes even more. That is not a criticism of the players – indeed, their contribution is very fine, but for all their impassioned playing, they cannot make up for a lack of depth to the instrumental sound, especially when the cover illustration of the booklet is of a full-bodied opera production! I also found some of the continuo playing a little distracting, with running quaver runs competing with the singing for my ears’ attention, which can never be a good thing.

But these are minor quibbles about such a fine recording which I heartily recommend to Zelenka fans!

Brian Clark