The jubilee 25th year of Olomouc’s Autumn Festival of Sacred Music is drawing to a close. Before the finale with Verdi’s Requiem yesterday there was a concert from the Brno chamber group Ensemble Versus under Vladimír Maňas with an ensemble of renaissance wind instruments accompanied by the continuo provided by Capella Ornamentata under the artistic leadership of its founder Richard Šeda in Olomouc’s Church of the Annunciation (Kostel Zvěstování Páně). Both bodies are mainly concerned with the interpretation of the religious music of the 16th and 17th centuries and have engaged in many other joint projects. In 2017 this cooperation led to a CD of the works of the late renaissance composer Nicolaus Zangius, whose works were heard at Sunday’s concert.
The evening with the title Music for Bishop Stanislav Pavlovský (Hudba pro biskupa Stanislava Pavlovského) had a well thought-through programme. It was based on the works of the bishop’s Kapellmeister Jacob Handl-Gallus, whose famous motet Undique flammatis celebrated the election of the new bishop is today the first famous work by Handl. Aside from Handl – where the link between his music and Stanislav II Pavlovský is clear – there were also works by the above-mentioned German composer Nicolaus Zangius, who died in Olomouc in 1617. Moreover, as outlined in the concert programme, the beginning of the 17th century brought great stylistic changes and was the time when the early Baroque began to penetrate into Moravia. For this reason three works for two sopranos and basso continuo by the early Baroque composer Giacomo Finetti were selected for the concert. He was not chosen at random, since all three works are from the collection of the choir of the church of the diocesan town of Příbor. The concert thus offered pieces from a very specific period while at the same time still offering works that were colourful ad varied. Already before the beginning of the first composition, it was announced that the structure of the concert would resemble that of the mass, which was also indicated by the order of the individual parts of the ordinary of the mass.
Sacred music – while it undoubtedly belongs in church – sometimes has to fight the poor acoustics of church naves. However the Church of the Annunciation on Dolní náměstí offers an ideal balance between the fullness of sound and its clarity for this relatively small grouping (even though it is a combination of the Ensemble Versus and the Capella Ornamentata). It often happens that the long reverberations in churches prevent the rapid imitations often used in the music of this period from fully sinking in. In the worst cases the coherence of the performance is completely lost and all that sometimes survives from this polyphonic whirlwind is the final amen. In the Church of the Annunciation however all the voices could be distinguished and each entrance was clear and distinct and it was never the case that a solid mass of unidentifiable sounds hung in the air. The balance between the singers’ voices and the sounds of the instruments for the creation of a complex sound that was still attract to the listeners and allowed them to perceive the structure of the pieces.
The concert opened with an instrumental version of Zangius’ motet Exultate iusti, the choral version of which ended the entire programme. In this cycle, aside from the already-mentioned parts of the ordinary of the mass and individual motets there were also two choral chants. The musicians and choristers opened the concert with verve and conviction. In the first half the intonation was pure and rhythmically the choir held together. In particular the imitation in Gallus’ Undique flammatis was clear and compelling. Of course the musical instruments had a major influence on the overall sound colour, not only supporting some of the voices and making the resulting sound distinctive but also bringing out individual melodies in the counterpoint. The character of the music as well as the instruments used changed during compositions. While at times the church resounded to the tones of trombones, cornets, dulcians, violins and theorbos, at other times there was for example only violin and theorbo with a solo singer. Work with the space also influenced the music – the timbre and its perception changed in the course of the concert depending on the placing of the artists. In the second half however it seemed that both singers and instrumentalists ran out of steam: there were more imperfections in intonation and rhythm and the overall cohesion was lost. The entrances of individual singers were no longer so precise and the cornet player also appeared to be tired. Not that the result was no longer of quality but Ensemble Versus and Capella Ornamentata are capable of better and many times have shown this to their listeners.
The penultimate concert of the Autumn Festival of Sacred Music offered music from the 16th and 17th centuries in authentic interpretation with a well-planned programme and exemplary work with space. The internal tempo of the concert created an experience with not only the rich sound of the wind instruments, cornet and dulcian, but also choral singing, ensemble playing and solos. And all of it took place in the ideal acoustic conditions of the Church of the Annunciation where the efforts off both ensembles paid off. It was only a pity that towards the end of the concert occasionally some of the interpreters ran out of puff. Despite this we still experience a quality and an informed interpretation of music which is not often found on concert programmes.
Capella Ornamentata Vladimír Maňas and Richard Šeda – artistic directors
Nicolaus Zangius: Exultate iusti à 6 (instrumental)
Jacobus Handl Gallus: Undique flammatis à 7
Gaudeamus omnes in Domino (choral)
Jacobus Handl Gallus: Missa Super Undique Kyrie, Gloria à 7
Giacomo Finetti: Ecce tu pulchra es à 6
Nicolaus Zangius: Tota pulchra es à 6
Jacobus Handl Gallus: Missa Super Undique Credo à 7
Giacomo Finetti: Ab initio et ante saecula creata sum à 2
Nicolaus Zangius: Jesu dulcis memoria à 6
Nicolaus Zangius: Deus misereatur nostri à 8
Ave Maria (choral)
Jacobus Handl Gallus: Missa Super Undique Sanctus à 7
Giacomo Finetti: Laudate pueri Dominum à 6
Nicolaus Zangius: Ego flos campi à 6
Jacobus Handl Gallus: Missa Super Undique Agnus à 8
Nicolaus Zangius: Exultate justi in Domino à 6
Sunday 14 October 2018, Church of the Annunciation (Kostel Zvěstová