The Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 www.collegium1704.com ensembles were founded by the harpsichordist and conductor Václav Luks in 2005 on the occasion of the Bach–Prague–2005 project, marking the beginning of residential collaboration with the Prague Spring International Music Festival.
Since 2007, after their huge success with Zelenka's Missa votiva in France, Collegium 1704 has been regular guest at festivals around Europe. In addition to performing the general baroque repertoire they promote the work of Czech masters such as Jan Dismas Zelenka and Josef Mysliveček.
In 2008 they began the Prague-Dresden Musical Bridge concert series which continues the rich cultural traditions of the two cities and in 2012 a second concert series called Collegium 1704 in the Rudolfinum held at the Rudolfinum – Dvořák Hall in Prague. Since autumn 2015, the two concert series merged into one season held in Prague and Dresden.
Other appearances have taken place in Prague, Caen, Dijon, Luxembourg and Vienna as well as the Salzburger Festspiele, Berliner Philharmonie, the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Wigmore Hall, Versailles, the Lucerner Festival, the Chopin Festival, Oude Muziek Utrecht and Bachfest Leipzig.
Why 1704? In August 1704 the church of St. Nicholas in Prague witnessed the magnificent performance of Jan Dismas Zelenka’s (1679-1745) Jesuit allegory play Via Laureata. Given that little is known about Zelenka's previous life, this event signifies the arrival of one of the most remarkable personalities in 18th century music.
Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704’s recordings on the Accent, Zig-Zag Territories and Supraphon labels have received critical acclaim (including Diapason d'Or, Coup de Coeur by TV Mezzo, nomination for The Gramophone Awards by Gramophone Magazine).
Their most recent project is the world premiere recording of Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Missa Divi Xaverii for Accent www.note1-music.com coupled with Zelenka’s Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio.
In 1729 Zelenka produced two major compositions for the celebrations held in Dresden’s Catholic court church for the feast of St. Francis Xavier, Missa Divi Xaverii and Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio.
There are some fine string sounds from Collegium 1704 as the Kyrie eleison I of Missa Divi Xaverii, ZWV12 jogs forward with a fine rhythmic pulse pointed up by the timpani and brass adding colour. Soloists, Hana Blažíková (soprano), Kamila Mazalová (alto), Václav Čížek (tenor) and Stephan MacLeod (bass) weave some fine textures and harmonies interspersed by some very fine choral passages from Collegium Vocale 1704, Václav Luks always keeping the rhythmic pulse and a sense of taut, forward motion.
Collegium 1704 bring some lovely light textured orchestral passages to the opening of Christe eleison with a wonderful control in the longer held phrases as well as some agile decorations. The choir bring great energy to Kyrie eleison II with Hana Blažíková and Kamila Mazalová adding subtle vocal textures, rhythmically pointed up by the ensemble.
The Gloria opens wonderfully with the brass of Collegium 1704 in the fast and rhythmically sprung Gloria in excelsis Deo. The choir weave some very fine vocal layers, bringing lovely textures, perfectly balanced with the ensemble. There is a beautifully shaped Domine Deus I with tenor Václav Čížek bringing a fine strong voice and providing some lovely sounds in the longer held phrases with Luks shaping the orchestral part so well.
The choir and orchestra with timpani bring a strong powerful opening to Domine Deus II. There are some lovely woodwind passages with soprano and alto blending beautifully in a delightful section against which the woodwind are heard, creating a rather pastoral feel.
It is the male voices of Collegium Vocale 1704 that introduce the Qui tollis I with the whole choir adding layers before a slow section leads to Qui tollis II with more fine wind passages and tenor Václav Čížek and bass Stephan MacLeod weaving some lovely textures against an instrumental accompaniment. There is a short, fugal choral Qui sedes with terrific instrumental and timpani accompaniment before an energetic passage for strings introduces Quoniam tu solus Sanctus to which brass, then woodwind join. The four soloists brings some beautifully sung, sensitively controlled passages along with much energetic, fleet orchestral playing, crisply pointed up with timpani. Finally in this section of the mass the choir and orchestra weave a terrific Cum Sancto Spiritu, as fine as anything by Bach, certainly as performed by Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704.
Sanctus - Pleni sunt coeli brings a lovely breadth from Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 with a subtle, beautifully paced urgency developing. Beautifully blended woodwind open the Benedictus, exquisitely done before soprano Hana Blažíková brings a superbly nuanced Hosanna with fine rhythmic energy from the choir and orchestra in this strikingly fine section.
There is a really lovely opening to Agnus Dei I with a flute gently jogging forward over strings before alto Lucile Richardot glides in, adding the most lovely textures, blending perfectly with the instrumental accompaniment, bringing fine flexibility and control in this exquisite section. The choir brings an equally fine texture to the Agnus Dei II before the timpani firm up the music for Dona nobis pacem as Collegium Vocale 1704 and Collegium 1704 lead forward in a faster flowing section with soprano and alto soloists adding some fine moments. Luks finds a subtle strength to conclude this fine Mass setting.
This is an impressive work wonderfully performed by Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704.
Collegium Vocale 1704 and Collegium 1704, with fine brass textures lightening up the score, move ahead in a finely textured fast moving Kyrie eleison of the Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio ZWV156. Pater de coelis brings a lovely rhythmic poise with solo soprano Hana Blažíková bringing a fine fluidity around which the orchestra keep a light textured flow. Sancte Francisce brings some lovely rasping brass textures with solo tenor Václav Čížek adding his own fine textures, blending and contrasting so well.
Alto Kamila Mazalová brings a fine sense of urgency to the Vas electionis with lovely mellifluous choral lines from Collegium Vocale 1704 before running straight into an energetic Tuba resonans with more fine brass textures and the four soloists finding a lovely blend of textures, bass Stephan MacLeod weaving some particularly fine deep resonances. A dramatically intense Auxiliator naufragantium follows with more terrific rasping brass textures and the choir adding a dramatic choral line before finding a quieter, gentle section; a lovely contrast.
There is a vibrant and lively Cujus potestati where alto Lucile Richardot brings some wonderfully flexible fast passages, crisply phrased in this the second of her two solos. Gloria Societatis Jesu has some incisive, energetic choral and instrumental writing before soprano Hana Blažíková brings a very beautifully toned
Pauperrime, with the choir adding beautiful harmonies against a light and subtle rhythmic accompaniment.
Collegium 1704 bring a terrific well sprung instrumental opening to Animarum et Divini before bass Stephan MacLeod adds his rich tones, weaving some lovely lines around which the rhythmically shaped orchestra winds.
A chamber organ leads some fine instrumental accompaniment to a beautifully blended, slow, passionate In quo uno omnium for soprano, alto and tenor before brass point up the Sancte Francisce as tenor Václav Čížek brings his nicely shaped and finely agile contribution. Collegium Vocale 1704 bring some lovely broad long lines to Agnus Dei I with soprano and alto adding some glorious, beautifully controlled lines. There is a finely shaped Agnus Dei II with this choir having a lovely ebb and flow before a lovely gentle concluding Miserere nobis. Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 end the work with a gentle flow.
Václav Luks and Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704’s energetic and well-shaped performances bring absolute delight, particularly with their strong line up of soloists. If anyone still needs convincing of Zelenka’s stature these performances may well be the ones to do it.
With a first rate recording and a well-illustrated booklet with excellent notes by Janice Stockigt of the University of Melbourne this is an irresistible new release.