Czech composer Jan Zelenka (1679-1745) was held in high regard by masters such as JS Bach and Telemann. Today his majestic church music is finally receiving the attention it deserves. But his six sonatas ZWV181 have been popular with modern wind players since the mid-1950s. Unsurprising, given the virtuosic treatment.
These sonatas are superb examples of the quadro sonata, a genre in which all four voices were given fully independent parts.
In Janice B Stockigt’s excellent booklet to this equally excellent recording, she quotes one of Zelenka’s students, JJ Quantz referring to the quadro sonata as “the true touchstone of a genuine contrapuntist”.
Ensemble Marsyas, named after the satyr of Greek mythology who challenged Apollo in a reed-playing competition (he was skinned alive for his trouble), here perform sonatas III, V and VI; they are joined in Sonata III by that doyenne of the Baroque violin, Monica Huggett.
Performances are dazzling throughout, with Josep Domenech Lafont and Molly Marsh (oboes) and Peter Whelan (bassoon) negotiating Zelenka’s dazzling, inventive and sometimes dense but never unclear writing with style and élan. Violone player Christine Sticher likewise relishes her part while keyboardist Philippe Grisvard and theorbo player Thomas Dunford add harmonic richness to a colourful palette.