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Grzegorz Gerwazy GORCZYCKI (1665/67 - 1734): "II - Missa Rorate II, Hymns, Conductus Funebris"

Aldona Bartnik, Agnieszka Rymana, soprano; Matthew Venner, alto; Maciej Gocman, tenor; Tomás Král, Jaromír Nosekb, bass
Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Andrzej Kosendiak

rec: July 14 - 16, 2014, Wroclaw, Lutoslawsky Philharmonic Concert Hall
CD Accord - ACD 211-2 (© 2016) (69'46")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - translations: E/P
Cover, track-list & booklet

Conductus funebris; Crudelis Herodes; Deus tuorum militum; Iesu corona virginum; In virtute tua; Litaniae de Providentia Divinaa; Missa Paschalis; Missa Rorate IIb; Tristes erant Apostoli

Marcel Plavec, Malgorzata Józefowska, oboe; Russell Gilmour, Steven Gilbey, trumpet; Zbigniew Pilch, Mikolaj Zgolka, violin; Julia Karpeta, Krzysztof Karpeta, viola da gamba; Janusz Musial, double bass; Premysl Vacek, theorbo; Marta Niedzwiecka, organ

Recently the Polish label CD Accord released various discs of Polish music from the 17th and 18th centuries. This repertoire is largely unknown outside Poland, but deserves to become better known. It is a good sign that in recent years Eamonn Dougan directed the British ensemble The Sixteen in various programmes of Polish music released by Coro. This shows that the musical heritage of Poland is gradually becoming part of mainstream European musical culture.

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki is one of the better-known Polish composers. Although he was a contemporary of Telemann and Bach, there is really no similarity between them. One could better compare him with Italian contemporaries, such as Alessandro Scarlatti. That is especially relevant as stylistically his music belongs to the past. Italian composers often wrote sacred music in the stile antico of the 16th century, albeit mixed with elements of the style of their own time.

Let me first turn to Gorczycki's biography. From about 1678 to 1683 he studied philosophy at Prague University and then theology at Vienna University until 1689. In early 1690 at the latest he moved to Cracow; here he was ordained in 1692. Shortly afterwards he became professor at the Congregatio Missionis at Chelmno. Among his duties was the direction of the music in the chapel. In 1694 he returned to Cracow where he became connected to Wawel Cathedral. In 1698 he was appointed as musical director; he held this position until his death. It seems that he started composing in the early 1690s.

The present disc includes two masses. That is to say: only the Missa Paschalis is a mass as we expect it to be. It includes the traditional ordinary chants; however, in this setting the Credo is omitted. Here Gorczycki made use of melodic material from Easter music, both chant (Lux et origo) and popular Easter songs. In the Hosanna I thought I recognized a melody which in Germany is connected to the Easter hymn Erstanden ist der heilig Christ. I could not find any information about the origin of the melody. If it is from pre-Reformation times it is no surprise that is was known in Poland.

This mass is scored for four voices and written in the pure stile antico. The same is the case with the Missa Rorate II. However, this includes not the ordinary chants, but the propers. It is one of two such masses in Gorczycki's oeuvre. Rorate caeli is a chant connected to the Advent period: "Drop down ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness". In one of the chants Gorczycki's makes use of the melody of the carol Resonet in lauudibus. The mass is scored for four voices, but in a different line-up: it omits a soprano part and the tenor is split into two different parts.

The other pieces in the programme are more 'modern', in that the scoring includes instrumental parts. However, the four hymns which follow the Missa Rorate II are in fact a mixture of old and contemporary elements. The latter is represented by the instrumental scoring of two violins and basso continuo. The role of the violins is not to support the voices, playing colla voce; they have rather independent parts. However, they are not used for expressive purposes. These hymns are dominated by traditional counterpoint. Its techniques of cantus firmus and imitation are strongly present here. In some of the hymns Gorczycki turns to a different metre and homophony in the concluding sections.

Conductus funebris includes texts from the Office for the Dead: two responsories and two antiphons. The scoring is for four voices and an instrumental ensemble of two trumpets, two violins, viola, violone or bass sackbut and basso continuo. There are some references to liturgical chants and there is some text expression, especially through the use of pauses. The trumpets are also part of the scoring of the motet In virtute tua, which was included in the Mass in honour of a martyr or a believer. The motet opens with a short instrumental sinfonia. The trumpet plays some fanfare motifs in the second line: "[In] Thy salvation he shall rejoice exceedingly".

The closing piece has the largest scoring: the Litaniae de Providentia Divina is for five voices - with split sopranos - and an instrumental ensemble of two oboes, two trumpets, two violins, bass viol and basso continuo. It is a series of invocations to the Virgin Mary, who is called 'providentia divina' - "divine providence". Whereas often such litanies are for two groups of singers, the second of which sings the "miserere nobis", that is not the case here, although the phrases mostly open with the higher voices and the "miserere" is allocated to the lower parts.

Despite some 'modern' elements in pieces as the Litaniae, it is justifiable to say that Gorczycki was a rather conservative composer. That is not necessarily a negative qualification. It all depends on the quality of the music. There is nothing wrong with that in the pieces recorded here. The performers have certainly got it right in not trying to make too much of them. Strong dynamic contrasts, for instance, would be out of place, as would be a more or less declamatory way of singing. They approach this repertoire from the angle of the stile antico, and that seems just right. The singers are excellent: the voices blend perfectly which results in great transparency. The instruments also respect the character of this music: the violins have no real concertante role as in so many motets of the time, but are part of the musical fabric. They are two of the voices, not fundamentally different from the vocal parts.

Of the recordings with Gorczycki's music which I have heard through the years, this is certainly the best.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Aldona Bartnik
Matthew Venner
Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra

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