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"O królach polskich - Of Polish Kings"

Canor Anticus
Dir: Marcin Zalewski

rec: Dec 1996 & Jan 1997, Warsaw, Sapieha Palace (Grand Ballroom)
Dux - 0761 (R) (© 2010) (57'50")
Liner-notes: E/P

anon: Nasz Zbawiciel (2 settings); Nasz Zbawiciel Pan Bóg; O królach polskich; Przez Twe swiete zmartwychwstanie; Valentin BAKFARK (1507-1576): Albo juz dalej trwac nie moge; Czarna krowa; Fantasia V; Fantasia VI; Fantasia VII; Diomedes CATO (before 1570-after 1607): Canzona Diomedis; Piotr DRUSINSKI (?-1611): Preambulum I; Preambulum II; Resonet in laudibus; Veni redemptor gentium; Valentin HAUSMANN (c.1565/70-c.1614): Polnischer Tanz I; Polnischer Tanz II; Polnischer Tanz III; Krzysztof KLABON (before 1550-after 1616): Kyrie, Christe, Kyrie ultimum; Seweryn KON (?-?): [piece without title]; Duma; Jakub SÓWKA (SOWA) (?-1611): Kyrie paschale; Marcin Z WARTY (WARTECKI) (2nd half 16th C.): Nos autem gloriari oportet (Introitus de S. Cruce)

Marcin Zalewski, Aleksander Dlugajczyk, Wojciech Zalewski, Maria Sarap, Kazimierz Gruszczynski, viola da gamba

The musical past of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe is little known in other parts of the world. It seems only recently that discs with Polish music of the renaissance and baroque periods, performed by Polish ensembles, have reached the outside world. In the last two years or so I have reviewed several discs with Polish music which were originally recorded five years or longer ago. That is also the case here: the recording dates from 1997, but I had never heard of it nor of the ensemble before until this Dux reissue.

There is one handicap in the research of the musical heritage of Poland. During World War II many manuscripts have been destroyed or have just disappeared, and as a result our knowledge of the music of the 16th and 17th centuries is limited. A number of pieces on this disc are also from manuscripts which are no longer available. Fortunately some of them had been copied or microfilmed before the war.

In the renaissance instruments were mainly used to support singers. When purely instrumental music was performed, it mostly involved transcriptions of vocal music or dance music. Many transcriptions can be found in tablatures, in particular for organ. A large number of pieces on this disc are taken from such sources. The organ tablature of Jan of Lublin is a source regularly used by organists. But there is no reason whatsoever not to play these pieces on other instruments or, as here, with an instrumental consort.

Consorts of instruments were very popular during the renaissance. They could comprise various instruments: violins, viols, recorders or cornetts and sackbuts. Musicians were practical in those days: they played music on whatever instrument they had at their disposal. In regard to consort music it was most common to play on instruments of one family. Mixing wind and strings - viols and recorders, for instance - was an exception.

This disc brings various kinds of music which were part of the consort repertoire of those days. So there are some typically instrumental forms - especially used for keyboard music -, like the fantasia, the canzona and the praeambulum (or prelude). In addition we hear dances (Haussmann) and transcriptions of vocal pieces, including parts of the Mass. Many pieces are anonymous, but even where a name has come down to us most lovers of renaissance music probably won't have heard of them. The best-known composers in the programme are Valentin Bakfark and Valentin Haussmann. The former was a famous lutenist, born in Transylvania, and working for a while at the royal court in Poland. The latter was from southern Germany, and also spent some time in Poland. The latest music dates from the first decade of the 17th century. But at that time the new Italian concertante style hadn't reached Poland.

I haven't always assessed recordings by Polish ensembles all that positively. It is different this time: I have very much enjoyed this disc. The five players of Canor Anticus give very fine performances on their viols, ranging from treble to bass. They produce a beautiful sound and the ensemble is excellent. The players are not afraid to explore the full dynamic range of their instruments. That is certainly right: there is no reason why renaissance music should be played at more or less the same dynamic level all the time. They shape the musical lines beautifully and the various voices of these polyphonic pieces are clearly discernable.

The repertoire is another reason why this disc is commendable: even those who have a special interest in renaissance music won't hear much they already knew. There is just one well-known melody: the transcription of a setting of the hymn Resonet in laudibus by Drusinski.

Because of the quality of the music and the level of the performances this disc is a winner, and a worthwhile addition to any record collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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