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CD reviews

"Baroque in Poland - church and court music"

alla polacca

rec: Feb 19 - 22, 2009, Wuppertal, Immanuelskirche
Ars Produktion - 38 065 (© 2009) (67'54")

anon: Canzona 1. toni; Kaspar FÖRSTER (1616-1673): Sonata in G; Adam JARZEBSKI (1590-1648): Berlinesa, Concerto a 3; Giovanni Battista LUPARINI (c1700-1775): In martirio crudele, cantata; Marcin MIELCZEWSKI (1590-1651): Canzona I a 2; Antoni MILWID (1755-1837): Semper mi Jesu, cantata; Jan PODBIELSKI (17th c): Preludium; Stanislaw Sylwester SZARZYNSKI (c1670-1713): Jesu spes mea, Concerto a 3; Sonata a due violini con basso pro organo; Veni, Sancte Spiritus, Concerto a 3; Maciej WRONOWICZ (c1645-c1700): In dulci iubilo, Concerto a 3

Iwona Lesniowska-Lubowicz, soprano; Stanislaw Gojny, theorbo; Paulina Kilarska, harpsichord, organ; with Dagmar Valentova, Margret Baumgartl, violin; Holger Faust-Peters, viola da gamba

The music composed and performed in Poland in the 17th and 18th centuries is hardly known. Most composers on this disc are completely unknown quantities. The most famous Polish composer of the 17th century was Pekiel, who worked in Warsaw and later in Cracow around the middle of the century. Somewhat later it is Gorczycki who may ring some bells. But there were more high-ranked composers in Poland at their time, and musicians from elsewhere, in particular from Italy, were active in Poland as well.

Like so many countries Poland was musically influenced by the Italian style. During his time in Warsaw Pekiel composed large-scale sacred works in the Venetian polychoral style. He also adopted elements of the new concertante style, and so did other composers. When in 1655 the Swedes captured and destroyed Warsaw the royal chapel was dissolved and composers sought refuge in churches and chapels elsewhere. As a result the Italian concertante style spreaded through Poland and this disc presents a number of pieces which reflects its influence.

At the time the disaster hit Warsaw Marcin Mielczewski, who worked in the royal chapel from 1632 to 1645, had already died. He composed a considerable number of sacred works, but also seven canzonas. The programme opens with the Canzona I, a sequence of short contrasting sections, which contains some traits of Polish folk music.

Adam Jarzebski is of the same generation. He was also a member of the royal chapel, probably from 1616 or 1617 until his death. Before he had visited Italy, and it doesn't surprise that his Concerto a 3 is very Italian in style. A much later composer is Wronowicz who was appointed director of the cathedral chapel of Wloclawek in 1680. His sacred concerto In dulci iubilo has nothing to do with the well-known German hymn of the same title. This is a sacred concerto in a number of short sections. The vocal part is virtuosic and contains many coloraturas. The violins mostly imitate the vocal phrases.

Szarzynski is a very little-known master from around 1700, about whose activities as a musician and composer nothing is known. His sacred works are written in the Italian concertato style, and the two sacred concertos on this disc contain elaborate parts for the two violins. The second section of Jesu spes mea is with basso continuo alone, and contains hardly any repeats. The closing passage is rather simple. Veni, Sancte Spiritus consists of several stanzas, the first of which is with basso continuo alone. Then the violins play a kind of ritornello, after which they accompany the voice. The words "in fletu" are particularly singled out and strongly contrast with the preceding phrases and the following "solatium". The Sonata a due violini con basso pro organo is a sequence of short contrasting movements.

Giovanni Battista Luparini is an example of an Italian composer who worked in Poland, as a member of the chapel of the Jesuit Church of Cracow. In martirio crudele is a typical cantata in the style of the Italian solo motet and shows the influence of opera. A symphonia is followed by a recitative, a dacapo aria, another recitative, an aria without dacapo and an Alleluia. The cantata Semper mi Jesu by Milwid indicates that Polish music at the end of the 18th century was rather conservative. There are no traits of the classical style here; this is another Italian-style cantata like Luparini's. It begins with a dacapo aria, which is followed by a recitativo accompagnato and another aria, without dacapo this time, and closes with an extended 'Alleluia'. This cantata has a beautiful and elaborate obbligato part for the violin.

In addition we hear two keyboard pieces, and the Sonata in G by Kaspar Förster. He worked in Danzig (Gdánsk), which was under Polish political influence, but stylistically mainly German. Förster's sonata bears the traces of the stylus phantasticus which was so hugely popular in North Germany.

The ensemble alla polacca brings very good performances. I am impressed by the singing of the Iwona Lesniowska-Lubowicz whose excellent diction and articulation allow her to deliver the text in a truly speechlike manner. The many coloraturas - especially in Wronowicz' In dulci jubilo - are sung with impressive ease and fluency, and she creates some good dynamic shades. In the vocal works of later periods she is equally at home, with good ornamentation and a nice rhythmic freedom in the recitatives.

The instrumentalists perform just as well, and the instrumental pieces are given spirited and technically immaculate performances. The balance between the voice and the instruments is very good. The whole programme has been intelligently put together and is well recorded. It is a shame that only a German translation of the lyrics is printed in the booklet. Fortunately the liner notes are also in English.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

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