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Mikolaj ZIELENSKI (fl 1600): Offertoria Totius Anni 1611

[I] "Offertoria Totius Anni 1611 (Opera omnia, Vol. 2)"
Collegium Zielenski
Dir: Stanislaw Galonski
rec: July 5 - 8, 0210, Cracow, St Mary of Fatima Church
Dux - 0786 ( 2010) (57'17")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - translations: E/P
Cover & track-list

Ascendit Deus; Assumpta es Maria; Beata es virgo Maria; Benedictus sit Deus pater; Confessio et pulchritudo; Confirma hoc Deus; Domine Deus in simplicitate cordis mei; Filiae regnum in honore tuo; Gloriabuntur in te omnes; In omnem terram exivit sonus; In virtute tua Domine; Iustorum animae; Mirabilis Deus; Portas caeli aperuit Dominus; Protege Domine plebem tuam; Sacerdotes Domini; Stetit angelus

[II] "Offertoria Totius Anni 1611 (Opera omnia, Vol. 3)"
Collegium Zielenski
Dir: Stanislaw Galonski
rec: June 13 - July 8, 2011, Cracow, St Mary of Fatima Church
Dux - 0861 ( 2011) (50'58")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - translations: E/P
Cover & track-list

Afferentur regi Domino; Assumpsit Jesus Petrum; Domine ad adiuvandum; Estuet puris; Factus est repente; Felix namque es; Fulget in choro virginum; Gloria et honore; Igneo Ignati iubar; Laetentur omnes; Magnificat; Ortus de Polonia; Per merita Sancti Adalberti; Salve festa dies; Spiritus sancti gratia; Tanto tempore

These discs are the second and third of the six which include the complete oeuvre of Mikolaj Zielenski, a composer from the early 17th century about whom even Polish music-lovers knew little. Not that there is much to know: the years of his birth and death are unknown. It is only through his single extant collection of music that we know that he was an organist and director of music to Wojciech Baranowski, archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland from 1608. The archbishop was a great music-lover. He had been in Italy and was impressed by the splendour of the music he had heard. He wanted Zielenski to compose music of the same kind which could be used as Propers during Mass.

It was the archbishop who made the publication of Zielenski's Offertoria and Communiones totius anni possible, and it is to him that the composer dedicated the collection. This was printed and signed by Zielenski in Venice in 1611. This suggests that he has been in Italy for some time, probably studying with Giovanni Gabrieli as his music strongly reflects the style of the Venetian master, for instance in the writing for cori spezzati. However, there is no documentary evidence of this. Zielenski stated that his music was written in the 'new style', but at the time of its printing the style of the Gabrieli's was already making way for the new concertante style. Among its features are virtuosic parts for (solo) voices and instruments and the use of a basso continuo. These are absent in Zielenski's music. The organ part is not a basso continuo, but written in four voices, meant to support the singers.

In 2010 I reviewed the first volume of this project and one year before a kind of sampler. I expressed my appreciation for the efforts of Galonski and all the musicians involved for making this music available. At the same time I questioned several aspects of these performances which made me express my hope for a better interpretation which would do more justice to Zielenski's music. The volumes 4 to 6 include the Communiones which are mostly for solo voices, and therefore seemed appropriate to be reviewed separately. But the booklet of Volume 6 includes an essay by Galonski, in which he discusses the problems a modern interpreter has to solve if he wants to perform Zielenski's music. It would have been useful if that essay had been printed in the booklet of Volume 1. That would have allowed the listener to understand some of the decisions the conductor has taken.

He states that we don't know how large the choir was which Zielenski had at his disposal. Actually, we don't know anything about performances in his own time, where and when these offertoria were sung. Even so, a number of singers as used in these recordings is not in line with what was common at the time. The Collegium Zielenski comprises up to 27 singers (8-9/3-4/6/9). The relatively small number of altos and tenors results in an imbalance. One of the problems a performer has to solve is that the collection includes just one partbook for the organ, whereas the offertoria are for two choirs. This isn't much of a problem with performances in smaller churches, where the choirs are rather close to each other, with the organ in the middle. Galonski takes it for granted, though, that in larger churches the two choirs would have been placed much further from each other. That is a common assumption which is not necessarily true. I refer here to the interview with Paul McCreesh in the booklet to his recording "A New Venetian Coronation 1595" in which he states that even in the San Marco in Venice not always the whole space was used. The presence of just one organ partbook could well be an indication that Zielenski expected the two choirs to be allocated quite close to each other, even in large spaces.

In my review I also questioned the use of instruments: why so infrequently, and why only sackbuts? The answer can be found in Galonski's notes about the performance. "Reading Zielenski's comments on possible use of the instruments, you can be tempted to use in your performance the instruments from his epoch. Noteworthy is the fact that Zielenski himself didn't realize such an idea, marking only in which pieces the specific instrumentation should be used. That is why this recording is confined to the use of instruments only where it is consistent with the author's indications. Making a recording in a different way would introduce a subjective performing element, impinging on the authorship of the composer". This view is highly questionable. The fact that the composer has indicated the instrumentation for a number of pieces doesn't necessarily exclude the use of instruments elsewhere. It can be seen as an expression of the wish of the composer that at least these pieces should be performed with instruments, leaving the instrumental scoring of other pieces to the performers. We need to know more about the instruments which were used in Polish churches at the time, an issue which the booklets don't touch. Only then it is possible to decide whether it is plausible to use only sackbuts and omit instruments such as cornetts, dulcians, violins and viole da gamba. The effect of the strict adherence to the letter of Zielenski's indications is that the performances are less differentiated than one would wish.

However, even without instruments the performances could have been more interesting if the vocal ensembles had been considerably smaller and the singers would have paid more attention to the text. These performances are good enough to suggest that Zielenski's music is really worthwhile and a substantial addition to the vocal repertoire for double choir. Therefore I repeat my wish for a performance which is more in line with what we know about the performance practice of the time. For the time being these recordings are well worth investigating.

Johan van Veen ( 2012)

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