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Mikolaj GOMÓLKA (c1535 - 1591/1609?): "Audite, gentes! - Psalms of the Golden Age"

Paulina Ceremuzynska, soprano; Fernando Reyes, vihuela, guitar; Carlos Castro, percussion

rec: August 4 - 8, 2014, Warsaw, Lutoslawski Concert Studio
CD Accord - ACD 2142 (© 2014) (60'23")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Psalm 1: Szczesliwy, ktory nie byl miedzy zlemi w radzie; Psalm 7: W Tobie ja samym, Panie, czlowiek smutny, nadzieje klade; Psalm 20: Wsiadaj z dobrym sercem, o krolu cnotliwy; Psalm 29: Niescie chwale, mocarze, Panu mocniejszemu; Psalm 33: Pana sercem wesolym wspomiencie, cnotliwi; Psalm 47: Kleszczmy rekoma wszyscy zgodliwie; Psalm 49: Sluchaj, co zywo! Wszystki ziemskie kraje nakloncie uszu; Psalm 77: Pana ja wzywac bede, dokadem zywy; Psalm 91: Kto sie w opieke poda Panu swemu; Psalm 92: Sluszna rzecz, Panie, Tobie chwale dawac i Twoje swiete imie wyznawac; Psalm 96: Zácznicie nowa moznému piesn; Psalm 99: Pan kroluje, ktory wlada anjoly lotnemi; Psalm 118: Chwalcie Pana prze dobroc Jego niewymowna; Psalm 130: W troskach glebokich ponurzony; Psalm 137: Siedzac po niskich brzegach babilonskiej wody
(N.B. The diacritics in the titles have been omitted)

Source: Melodie na Psalterz polski, 1580

The Book of Psalms has been at the heart of the liturgy of the Christian Church since early times. Psalms have been sung or recited on a daily basis in churches, chapels and monasteries. Part of their importance stems from the fact that they include the whole range of human emotions and are an expression of the relationship between God and his people. The importance of the Book of Psalms was eloquently expressed by Martin Luther who called it "a Little Bible, wherein everything contained in the entire Bible is beautifully and briefly comprehended, and compacted into an enchiridion or Manual."

One of the ideals of the Reformation was to make the congregation sing psalms and hymns in the vernacular. To that end the Psalms were rhymed and set to melodies which were easy to memorise. The best-known collection of rhymed Psalms in the vernacular is the Huguenot or Genevan Psalter which is still in use in our time. Although rhymed Psalms are strongly connected to the Reformation and Protestantism, their success encouraged Catholic poets and composers to follow in the footsteps of their Protestant counterparts. That happened especially in France: Philippe Desportes put the 150 Psalms into 'French rhymes' and Jean-Antoine de Baďf translated the Psalter into 'measured verses'.

The present disc turns our attention to a collection of rhymed Psalms from Poland. In 1579 Jan Kochanowski who is generally considered the greatest Polish poet before the 19th century published a versification of the Book of Psalms in Polish, and the next year Mikolaj Gomolka published his settings of these versifications. The latter was from the south-east of Poland and was in various ways connected to the court from 1545 to 1563. He later was active as a professional musician in Krakow in the service of leading citizens. One of them was Bishop Piotr Myszkowski. He also funded the publication of Kochanowski's Psalterz Dawidowy as well as Gomolka's Melodie na Psalterz polski. The epigram to Gomolka's collection was written by Andrzej Trzecieski, a leading representative of the Polish Reformation. From this one may conclude that these Psalm settings were meant to be used by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Gomolka's Psalms are the only music from his pen which has been preserved. They are scored for four voices and show the influence of Italian and especially Neapolitan music. Gomolka makes use of forms of secular vocal music, such as frottola and villanella, and dances like passamezzo, bergamasca and ciacona. It attests to the strong influence of the Italian style in Poland: many aristocrats and intellectuals travelled to Italy to expand their horizon. One other feature of these psalm settings needs to be mentioned. In the second half of the 16th century theorists and composers emphasized the importance of the text. Among them were Cipriano de Rore and Orlandus Lassus. Gomolka joins them as in his settings he closely follows the text. Paulina Ceremuzynska in her liner-notes states that "[it] is therefore quite natural that the refined metrics of Kochanowski's poems is an integral part and the pillar of Gomolka's composition, and ultimately shaped the metric of the psalms. Gomolka skillfully emphasized the written text, and accorded it primacy over the musical matter. (...) The sophisticated diversity of musical articulation is suggested by Jan Kochanowski's use of punctuation, which Gomolka closely mirrors in his Melodies. It is not our modern grammatical punctuation, but rhetorical-intonational punctuation, intended for performers".

This aspect is given much attention in the performance on this disc, alongside a historical pronunciation. This is not of purely historical interest but is instrumental in communicating the text and the emotions it expresses. It is a little unfortunate that this 'historical' approach is not worked out consistently. As has been mentioned above these Psalms are scored for four voices. That doesn't mean that they have to be sung by four singers. In the renaissance it was common practice to vary the scoring: voices could sing a capella or with instruments playing colla voce. Another option was a vocal performance of one part - usually the upper part - with the other parts being performed instrumentally, either by an instrumental ensemble or by a chordal instrument, such as lute or organ. The latter option is followed here. But the choice of a guitar seems rather debatable, and the use of a vihuela is even harder to defend as this was an almost exclusively Spanish instrument. The addition of percussion in some Psalms is justified by a reference to the presence of dance forms in Gomolka's Psalms. That is not particularly remarkable as dance forms appear in all kinds of music of the renaissance and baroque periods. Moreover, dances can perfectly be performed without percussion. The choice of a particular line-up should depend on how these Psalms were sung in Poland at the time, but unfortunately we don't receive any information about that.

Talking about disappointments, the booklet offers the lyrics in Polish, but without translation. That is to say: it includes English versions of the Psalms, but not a literal translation of Kochanowski's poems but rather "a poetic paraphrase of the Book of Psalms by Sir Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney (1580-1599) from The Psalmes of David translated into divers and sundry kindes of verse, more rare and excellent ...". That was not a very good idea: if it is emphasized how close Gomolka follows the text it would be useful to give a translation of Kochanowski's poems which is as close to the original as possible.

This should not give the impression that this is a bad recording. Far from it. Paulina Ceremuzynska's singing is spot on. She has a beautiful voice, avoids an incessant vibrato and doesn't try to do too much, for instance by adding ornamentation which would be out of place here. Her delivery is also excellent, and I assume that Polish speakers will have no problems understanding the text without reading the booklet. The playing of Fernando Reyes is also excellent and he never overshadows the vocal line.

Gomolka's Psalms are really enjoyable and I very much would like to hear more of them in a variety of scorings, including what seems the most logical: with four voices, either a capella or with a modest instrumental support. In the meantime let us enjoy this disc which brings a most interesting collection to our attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Paulina Ceremuzynska

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