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"Gems of the Polish Baroque"

Ensemble Giardino di Delizie

rec: April 4 - 7, & May 26, 2019, Nepi, Chiesa di San Bernardo
Brilliant Classics - 95955 (© 2020) (97'29")
Liner-notes: E/PL
Cover, track-list & booklet

Kaspar FÖRSTER (1616-1673): Sonata a 3 in c minor; Sonata a 3 in c minor; Sonata a 3 in d minor 'La Pazza'; Sonata a 3 in F 'La Sidon'; Sonata a 3 in G; Sonata a 3 in B; Adam JARZĘBSKI (1590-1649): Berlinesa, Concerto a 3; Cantate Domino, Concerto a 2; Chromatica, Concerto a 3; Tamburetta, Concerto a 3; Marcin MIELCZEWSKI (c1600-1651): Canzon I a 2; Canzon II a 2; Stanisław Sylwester SZARZYŃSKI (1650-1713): Sonata in D; Mikołaj ZIELEŃSKI (1560-1620): Fantazja II; Fantazja III

Ewa Anna Augustynowicz, Katarzyna Solecka, violin; Silvia de Maria, viola da gamba; Cristina Vidoni, cello; Paola Ventrella, theorbo; Elisabetta Ferri, harpsichord, organ
with: Amalia Ottone, viola da gamba; Marco Contessi, violone; Elena Bianchi, dulcian; Fabrizio Carta, theorbo

When around 1600 the seconda pratica emerged in Italy, this had far-reaching effects on the music scene in Europe. The Italian style disseminated quickly across the continent, especially in the northern and central part of it. This development took place in two different ways. On the one hand, Italian performers and composers travelled north in order to look for employment or on the invitation of monarchs and aristocratic rulers. On the other hand, composers from above the Alps embraced the new style and started to employ it in their own compositions. They became acquainted with it through personal contacts with Italian composers or through compositions, either in printed editions or in handwritten copies. Some of them travelled to Italy to hear for themselves what was happening there. One of the regions where the Italian music found a fertile soil was Poland, or rather, to use the official name from 1569 to 1795, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Several Italian composers worked for some time in Poland during the 17th century, but the twofer reviewed here rather focuses on compositions by native Polish composers. Moreover, we only get instrumental music; vocal music has been recorded by Polish ensembles, among them the Wrocław Baroque Ensemble, in recent years (you may find several of them being reviewed on this site).

The earliest composer included in the programme is Mikołaj Zieleński, about whom not that much is known. It is only thanks to his two printed collections of liturgical music (Communiones totius anni quibus in solennioribus festis Sancta Romana Ecclesia uti consuevit ad cantum organi; Offertoria totius anni, quibus in festis omnibus Sancta Romana Ecclesia uti consuevit, both from 1611) that we know that he was organist and director of music to Wojciech Baranowski, archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland from 1608. His publications were dedicated to the archbishop who himself was a fine singer and had his own vocal and instrumental ensemble at his court in Lowicz. He wanted Zieleński to compose offertories in modern style which could be used as Propers during the Mass. Only three instrumental pieces from his pen are known, two of which are performed here. They are early examples of the influence of the modern Italian style, but are modest in their application of it. Whether Zieleński has ever been in Italy himself is not known.

Adam Jarzębski is another Polish composer, who has left nearly only vocal music. He was educated as a violinist, and in this capacity he entered the service of Johann Siegmund Hohenzollern, Elector of Brandenburg, in Berlin. We know for sure that he was in Italy: in 1615 his employer granted him a year's leave of absence in order to visit Italy. Unfortunately for the elector, he did not return to Berlin, but rather settled in Warsaw, where he became a member of the royal chapel, where he remained for the rest of his life. As the chapel was dominated by musicians from Italy, among them Giovanni Francesco Anerio and Marco Scacchi, it cannot surprise that his own compositions are also written in the Italian style. His only printed collection of music is Canzoni e concerti of 1627. It includes the four instrumental works performed here. The Concerto à 3 'Chromatica' offers what its title promises. The Concerto à 3 'Tamburetta' does the same: the frequently repeated notes suggest the sound of a percussion instrument. The Cantate Domino is the instrumental version of a motet, scored for soprano and bastarda; the latter term is not explained, but may well refer to a bass string instrument, probably a bass violin. This piece is based on Palestrina's madrigal Vestiva i colli.

Marcin Mielczewski was one of the most important Polish composers from the first half of the 17th century. It is not known when he was born, but we do know that he was a pupil of Franciszek Lilius. The latter was himself a pupil of Frescobaldi and it is probably through him that Mielczewski became acquainted with the Italian style. He may have been educated as a player of the bassoon or the sackbut. The first documented evidence of his activities as a musician dates from 1632, when he was a member of the royal chapel in Warsaw. From 1645 until his death he was in the service of Karol Ferdynand Vaza, bishop of Plock and brother of King Władysław IV. The bishop's court stayed mostly in Warsaw and its immediate environment. Mielczewski's oeuvre is of considerable size and variety. Although he wrote music in the stile antico, the modern concertato style as practised in Italy in the first half of the 17th century is dominant. Apart from sacred concertos for solo voices he composed large-scale polychoral pieces in which elements of the concertato style are incorporated through passages for solo voices. It seems that he has left only a few instrumental works. Two canzonas are included here; the Canzon II is dominated by strict imitation between the two violins.

The composer who is best represented in this anthology is Kaspar Förster. He is also a special case as he was from Danzig (today Gdańsk), which at the time was under German rule. Therefore New Grove calls him a German composer. However, his inclusion here can be justified on the basis of his employment as a singer and conductor at the Polish court in Warsaw from the late 1630s to 1652. Before he had studied in Warsaw with Marco Scacchi and then with Carissimi in Rome. In 1652 he succeeded his father as organist of the Marienkirche in Danzig. His career indicates that the title of this disc has to be taken with a grain of salt: it is impossible to say whether the pieces performed here were written during his time in Warsaw. It is no problem, of course, if 'Polish' in the title is interpreted as a reference to the country as it is today. From that perspective, the music written in Danzig is part of Poland's music history. Förster is the most experimental of the composers on this disc as far as his treatment of harmony is concerned. Several sonatas include quite some chromaticism. His sonatas are also longer than most of the other pieces in the programme. What is especially interesting is that all the sonatas include an obbligato bass part, here played on viola da gamba, violone or dulcian. This can probably be explained from the fact that Förster was a bass singer, and that many of his vocal works include very low bass parts.

The latest composer is Stanisław Sylwester Szarzyński, and again we know very little about his life and career. He also has no entry in New Grove. His extant oeuvre comprises sacred music for voices and instruments. The Sonata in D is his only known instrumental work.

This anthology offers an interesting survey of the instrumental music written in what today is Poland. Most of the pieces attest to the dominance of the stylus phantasticus, which was a hallmark of the new style that emerged in Italy around 1600 and conquered a large part of Europe during the first half of the 17th century. It shows how Polish composers were able to internalize that style and write fully idiomatic instrumental music. The Ensemble Giardino di Delizie delivers brilliant and exciting performances, which are differentiated in colour, dynamics and tempo. Thanks to music and performers this is a set of discs to treasure.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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