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Mikolaj ZIELENSKI: Offertoria et Communiones Totius Anni, 1611

Emma Kirkby, sopranoa
Capella Cracoviensisb; Andrzej Bialko, organ
Dir: Stanislaw Galonski

rec: August 18 - 21, 2008, Cracow, St Mary of Fatima Church
Dux - 0681 ( 2008) (54'37")

Anima nostrab; Ave Mariab; Confundantur superbia; Desiderium animae eiusb; Deus firmavitb; Ego sum pastor bonusb; Elegerunt apostolib; Gustate et videtea; Inveni Davidb; Iustus ut palma florebitb; Laetentur caelib; Posuisti Domineb; Principes persecuti sunta; Reges Tharsisb; Responsum accepita; Terra tremuitb; Tui sunt caelib; Video caelos apertosa

Outside Poland not very much is known about Polish music in the renaissance and baroque periods. Even in Poland itself hardly anything is known about Mikolaj Zielenski: the collection from which the pieces on this disc have been taken is his only extant publication of music and only through this we know that he was organist and director of music to Wojciech Baranowski, archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland from 1608. It is sometimes suggested he had been in Italy as his music is strongly influenced by the polychoral style of Giovanni Gabrieli and his collection of 1611 was printed in Venice, but there is no evidence of him having ever been in Italy.

It was the archbishop who made this publication possible, and it is to him that Zielenski dedicated his collection: "I began this work at your instigation; whilst in your service I finished it and it is thanks to your generosity and prodigality that I was able to be published". The archbishop was a music-lover. "During his stay in Italy, he learnt to sing prettily without going flat, something rare amongst clerics", Giovanni Paolo Mucante, Master of Ceremonies at the papal court, wrote. His court in Lowicz consisted of a vocal and instrumental ensemble, and he valued splendour in liturgical music. He wanted Zielenski to compose offertories in modern style which could be used as Propers during Mass.

As already indicated Zielenski's music is reflecting the Venetian polychoral style. Although at the time his collection was published this style was replaced in Italy by the new concertato style, the style of Gabrieli was still new to Poland, as Zielenski's dedication indicates: "Offertories and Communions composed for the first time by a Pole in the new style". His closeness to Gabrieli is underlined by the alternative title he gave to his music: sacrae symphoniae - the same title Gabrieli used for his compositions. The two choirs are used in various ways, sometimes in imitation, sometimes in contrast. Especially important are the contrasting rhythms and the juxtaposition of polyphony and homophony, two ways of expressing the text and enhancing the dramatic character of his music. The two choirs both have their own organ part, which is not a basso continuo as it is written as a four-part score. In this recording also trombones are used which in some pieces double the vocal lines. This is certainly correct, considering Zielenski's indebtedness to Gabrieli.

The collection also contains some Communions for one voice and organ. These are not monodies like those were written at the time in Italy, for instance by Giulio Caccini. The solo part is rather like the top part of a polyphonic piece to which ornaments are added in the manner of the diminutions which were so popular in Italy in the second half of the 16th century. It seems Zielenski has notated these ornaments but I am pretty sure Emma Kirkby has added some of her own. This may be historically justified, sometimes it is a bit too much, and some are rather unnatural.

She never sings with the choir, and that is just as well as the singing of the choir is rather different from Ms Kirkby's. The main problem is that the choir with its 27 voices is too large and is just not flexible enough to fully realise the rhythmic shifts and to express the text. It is not easy to discover how Zielenski has translated the text into music, as the booklet doesn't contain the lyrics. The disposition of the choir is also less than ideal: there are 8 sopranos and just 4 contraltos. The balance between the six tenors and the nine basses isn't much better. In the pieces for a high and a low choir the sopranos and the basses are too dominant. As an effect of the size of the choir the trombones are not as clearly audible as they should be.

It is a shame this attempt to perform Zielenski's music hasn't turned out really well. I am not saying this is a bad recording: considering the size of the choir I am surprised how much of the character of Zielenski's music comes out. But with a smaller and more agile vocal ensemble and a greater variety of instruments - in particular cornetts and violins - the recording had been much better. We have to wait for a really good recording, since Zielenski's music definitely deserves the attention.

N.B. Those who are interested in Zielenski could look for another disc with his music, which is not ideal either but in general somewhat better. Fortunately only a couple of pieces appear on both discs. The performers are the Bornus Consort and the vocal and instrumental ensemble Linnamussikud de Tallin, directed by Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, and this recording was released in 1996 by the label Accord (202662). For this review I have used some information from the booklet of that disc.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

Relevant links:

Capella Cracoviensis

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