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Jacek RÓZYCKI (c1635-1703?): “Opera omnia”

Wroclaw Baroque Ensemble
Dir: Andrzej Kosendiak

rec: Sept 14 – 17, 2020, Wroclaw, Witold Lutoslawski National Forum of Music
CD Accord – ACD 280 (© 2021) (69'07")
Liner-notes: E/PL; lyrics - translations: E/PL
Cover & track-list

Aeterna Christi munera (I); Aeterna Christi munera (II); Aurora lucis rutilat; Ave sanctissima Maria; Chorus novae Jerusalem; Confitebor; Dixit Dominus; Exultemus omnes; Exultet orbis gaudiis; Fidelis servus et prudens; Gaude caelistis civitas; Iste sanctus; Laudes ad laudes iungite; Magnificat; O Maria stella maris; Omni die dic Mariae; Regina terrae, regina caeli (I); Regina terrae, regina caeli (II); Salvatoris mater pia; Salve decus humani generis; Verbum supernum prodiens

Aldona Bartnik, Tymoteusz Gaura, Sergiusz Mojzesowicz, Aleksandra Turalska, soprano; Daniel Elgersma, Pjotr Lukowski, alto; Maciej Gocman, Benjamin Glaubitz, tenor; Tomáš Král, Jaromír Nosek, bass
Andrea Inghisciano, cornett; William Lyons, Johannes Kronfeld, Masafumi Sakamoto, Hans-Martin Schlegel, sackbut; Zbigniew Pilch, Mikolaj Zgólka, Malgorzata Kosendiak, violin; Michal Mazur, viola; Julia Karpeta, viola da gamba; Krzysztof Karpeta, violone; Premysl Vacek, theorbo; Marta Niedzwiecka, organ

CD Accord is one of a few labels that in recent years have released a number of recordings of Polish music of the renaissance and baroque periods. Many composers whose works were included in them may have been entirely unknown to most music lovers, certainly outside of Poland. However, even many people in Poland may not have heard of them. The set of discs to be reviewed here is devoted to a composer who is among the least-known. He is certainly a lesser-known quantity than, for instance, Bartlomiej Pekiel, Marcin Mielczewski or Mikolaj Gomólka.

Jacek Rózycki was born around 1635 in the vicinity of Leczyca to a noble family. In the mid-1640s he may have entered the royal chapel in Warsaw, which at that time was under the direction of the Italian-born Marco Scacchi. His presence reflects the strong Italian influences in Polish musical life during most of the 17th century. In addition to Scacchi, Pekiel may have taught the young singer the art of composition. When Rózycki entered the chapel, Poland was under the reign of Wladyslaw IV Vasa, who was a great lover of music. He died in 1648, and his successor, John II Casimir, did not want to spend that much money on music. As a result, several musicians, among them Scacchi, left Poland; the latter was succeeded by Pekiel. However, due to wars with Russia and Sweden the musical performances of the chapel were brought to a halt, and it was only in 1657 that the chapel returned to its usual activities, this time under the direction of the young Jacek Rózycki. He held this post until his death, in 1703 or 1704. During his years in office, he served four different monarchs, the last of them Frederick August the Strong, who was also Elector of Prussia, and converted to Catholicism in order to be elected King of Poland.

Depite the fact that Rózycki had to deal with financial difficulties - he and his musicians were often paid much too late - he was able to keep the musical level of the chapel and its connections with the musical scene in Europe. Unfortunately, a large part of his oeuvre has been lost. None of his compositions were ever published and most of what has come down to us consists of copies made at a much later date than the time the music was written. On some of them the name of the composer is spelled differently, but there are also pieces signed with the monogram H.R. The 'H' then stands for Hyacinth, the Latin form of Jacek. These pieces are attributed to Rózycki, but their authenticity cannot be established with any certainty.

The present discs include the entire extant oeuvre of Rózycki. Two Vesper psalms, Dixit Dominus and Confitebor, as well as the Magnificat may originally have been part of a complete Vesper cycle. They show strong stylistic similarity and are written in the Italian concertato manner, with alternating episodes for soli and tutti. Exultemus omnes is a piece for Whitsun, and it does not surprise that it is in three parts (SSB). Notable is the coloratura on the word "flamantia", referring to the tongues of fire that were seen at the day the Holy Ghost was given. Whereas all the pieces are for three or more voices, Ave sanctissima Maria is the only one for a solo voice. It is in fact a duet of soprano and violin, which reminds of sacred concertos by, for instance, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. The violin part is not as virtuosic as Biber's, but it does include double stopping.

A large part of Rózycki's output consists of hymns, and these are much more straightforward. They are strophic, and each stanza is set to the same music. They are also homophonic. These pieces have been preserved in the archives of the Cracow Cathedral Chapter. Rózycki may have written them on commission from Wawel Cathedral, where they may have been sung by the Rorantist College, founded in 1540, in Sigismund's chapel, the royal chapel in the cathedral. That may in particular be the case with hymns for equal voices (ATTB).

Probably in order to avoid too much straightforward performances of these hymns, Andrzej Kosendiak decided to add instruments in some of them. "The size of such an ensemble would certainly exceed the spatial capacity of the Sigismund Chapel. However, we assumed that they could also be performed in other interiors, hence this deliberate extended line-up, presenting our vision of Rózycki's music. It should also be noted that in the case of most of the hymns, we have decided to keep at least one verse performed by a male quartet a cappella or with organ accompaniment, i.e. in a version close to the authentic sound". The instrumentalists play very well and it is nice to listen to, but the addition of instruments is based on much speculation. From a historical point of view it is regrettable. From a musical point of view I also don't see the need. These hymns may be straightforward and relatively simple, Rózycki shows here a remarkable melodic gift. I found them quite beautiful, and Aeterni Christi munera I has the capability of becoming an earworm. It is repeated at the end, mainly in instrumental performances, but the last say has the treble Tymotheusz Gaura, who has a lovely voice and sings it very well.

That goes for the entire ensemble: the singing and playing is really excellent, and in the Wroclaw Baroque Ensemble Rózycki has found his best possible advocate. I have greatly enjoyed this production, because of the music and the performances. It is accompanied by a comprehensive booklet with much information about the composer, his music and his time, and all the lyrics with English translations. I am looking forward to future recordings of Polish music of the pre-romantic era. There is still much to discover.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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