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Bartlomiej PEKIEL (? - c1666): Masses & motets

Aldona Bartnik, sopranoa; Matthew Venner, alto; Maciej Gocman, tenor; Tomás Král, Jaromir Nosekb, bass
Dir: Andrzej Kosendiak

rec: May 31 - June 2, 2015, Wroclaw, [Witold Lutoslawsky National Forum of Music (Red Hall)]
CD Accord - ACD 222-2 (© 2016) (66'18")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - translations: E/P
Cover, track-list & booklet

Assumpta est Mariab; Ave Mariab; Magnum nomen Dominia; Missa Pulcherrimaa; Missa Secundab; Resonet in laudibusa; Sub tuum praesidiumb

With the birth of the stile nuovo around 1600 in Italy, the role of traditional polyphony had not come to an end. Across Europe composers continued to write in the style which was particularly favoured by the church, and of which Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was considered the supreme representative. The present disc attests to that as it presents two masses, three motets and two carols in polyphonic style. The composer, Bartlomiej Pekiel, is one of the most renowned masters in Polish history.

The exact date and place of Pekiel's birth are not known. The German theorist Johann Mattheson claimed he was of German origin, but this remains unproven. He entered the court of King Wladyslaw IV Vasa in Warsaw sometime after 1633 and in 1641 he became vice-maestro di capella under Marco Scacchi. When the latter left the court in 1649, Pekiel took over his duties, although he was only officially appointed maestro di capella in 1653. Two years later Warsaw was captured by the Swedes and the court was dissolved. Pekiel moved to Cracow where he became director of music of the Wawel cathedral chapel.

There is some difference in style between the music written at the royal court in Warsaw and that of Pekiel's Cracow period. In Warsaw he wrote many large-scale pieces for voices and instruments, and made use of the Venetian polychoral technique. But the masses and motets he composed in Cracow are more moderate in scoring and written in a more conservative style, and for voices only. The pieces recorded here are all for four voices, but in the division of the voices they are different. The Missa Secunda and the three motets are for voces aequales, which means: male voices, whereas the other works include a treble part.

The Missa Secunda seems to be intended for the daily practice in Wawel Cathedral, which goes back to King Sigismund I 'the Old' (1467-1548), who was a great patron of the arts. He wanted to secure his place in the cultural history of his country with a sepulchral chapel in Wawel Cathedral. He also founded the Collegium of Rorantists (Cappella Rorantistarum) whose duty was to sing in his chapel every day a Rorate Caeli mass. At the beginning, the Rorantists were a national ensemble, which consisted of priest-singers and composers who sang Polish music, but also pieces by the leading composers of the time, such as Palestrina and Lassus. In the course of time composers from elsewhere who settled in Poland also joined the Rorantists.

The Missa Secunda is not based on a vocal model, as so many masses of the 16th century are. However, every section of the mass - with the exception of the Agnus Dei - opens with the same descending motif. The mass is dominated by imitative polyphony. Only here and there influences of the modern style of Pekiel's time manifest themselves. The Missa Pulcherrima has the addition ad instar Praenestini to its title, a reference to Palestrina. It is probably the composer's last work; the copy is dated 1669. There are some similarities between themes in this mass and a song, the melody of which may be identical with a Marian song in Latin, called Pulcherrima rosa, and therefore the liner-notes suggest that this mass could be intended for a Marian feast. Again, imitative polyphony is the name of the game here. There are some elements of text expression, for instance in the Credo (passus et sepultus est; non erit finis). Once again the motif, which opens the Kyrie, is repeated at the start of the next sections.

The three motets are all connected to the veneration of the Virgin Mary, which has always been very important in Poland. Assumpta est in coelum is for the Feast of the Assumption; the other two belong to a collection of common prayers. Sometimes Pekiel splits the ensemble in pairs of voices (high vs low). The disc ends with two carols; as so often with music for Christmastide, they are rather simple and straightforward, for instance through the dominance of homophony. The cantus firmus is clearly audible, either in the soprano (Magnum nomen Domini) or the tenor (Resonet in laudibus).

Given that Pekiel was a composer of the 17th century and that other recordings of his works available show a different style, one may expect more 'baroque' compositions here. That is not the case, as you will have understood from the description given above. This is music for lovers of renaissance polyphony. They should definitely consider this disc: this is fine music, and the performances are first class. Apparently the singers are not a fixed ensemble and have been brought together for the occasion. That has had no negative effect whatsoever: they sound as if they have sung as an ensemble for many years, as the voices blend perfectly and the balance between the voices is just right. The recording is also very good: there is enough space around the ensemble to create an acoustic in which this music can really blossom.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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