Al Capriccio

Al Capriccio
Concertos and symphonies by Johann Zach (1713–1773)
Barocksolisten München, Dorothea Seel, Anne Marie Dragosits
Musikmuseum MMCD 13035
. 66’47

Barocksolisten München, directed by flautist Dorothea Seel, explore the music of the idiosyncratic composer Johann (Jan) Zach. He was born into a family of wheelwrights near the pilgrimage town of Brandýs nad Labem in central Bohemia, site of the murder of Duke Wenceslas. In 1724 he moved to Prague where he worked as a violinist and studied organ. His short-lived career as organist seems to have culminated in an unsuccessful application in 1737 for the position of organist at St. Vitus Cathedral. He reappears in early 1745 in Augsburg just before his appointment as Kapellmeister at the court of the Prince Elector of Mainz.

Zach seems to have been a rather eccentric chap, with a life full of conflict, not least at Mainz. He was suspended from his position in 1750 and dismissed in 1756 and didn’t seem to have any steady employment after that. He travelled and sold copies of his works alongside teaching and some performing, visiting various sacred and secular institutions, including staying several times at the Cistercian Abbey of Stams in the Tyrol. Several manuscripts were donated to the Abbey, and now form the largest surviving repository of Zach’s works, and this recording draws from those compositions.

Zach’s music is inventive, often to the point of being bizarre. He was composing during the transition between the Baroque and the emerging Classical style, and his music frequently combined elements of both, to varying degrees of success. The Concerto a Quattro in G major is a frothy Baroque-style piece for flute, 2 violins & harpsichord, although the other flute concerto, in D, reflects latter musical tastes. The use of horns in this, and other pieces, add a curious timbre to the otherwise relatively chamber-style mood of the music. The two pieces extracted from religious works (the Overture to the Stabat Mater and the Introduzione to La Passione di Gesu Christo Nostra Signore) both have short introductions before straightforward fugues. The opening to the Stabat Mater Overture is particularly dramatic and intense, so it is a shame that it is interrupted so quickly by the workaday fugue.

The Concerto in F major is perhaps the most curious of the collections. Scored for harpsichord, strings, 2 oboes & 2 horns, it is like a mini-opera, to the extent that its central movement is a milti-sectional Recitativo. As with the Harpsichord Concerto C (which, curiously, appends a B-flat major concluding Allegro to a slow movement in A minor), Anne Marie Dragosits plays with a musical intensity that suits the music well.

Dorothea Seel directs the orchestra and provides the flute solos in two of the concertos. The playing of the Barocksolisten München is well suited to the music, the horns, in particular, having a prominent role. The recording is another in the Innsbruck Tiroler Landesmuseen collection of CD, under the title of musikmuseum 36.

Overture to the Stabat Mater for strings, 2 oboes & bc
Concerto in C major for harpsichord, strings & 2 horns
Concerto a quattro in G major for flute, 2 violins & harpsichord
Introduzione in E major to La Passione di Gesu Christo Nostra Signore for strings & 2 oboes
Concerto in D major for flute, strings & 2 horns
Concerto in F major for harpsichord, strings, 2 oboes & 2 horns
Sinfonia in G for strings, 2 flutes & horn