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Grzegorz Gerwazy GORCZYCKI (1665/67 - 1734): "Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki & the Piotrków Chant"

Bornus Consort; Vocal Quartet 'Tempus'; The Gorczycki Sarmatian Choir; Ensemble of Ancient Instruments 'Concerto Antemurale'a
Dir: Robert Pozarski

rec: Sept 20 - 22, 2013, Chelmno, Parish Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumption
Dux - 0994 (© 2013) (78'42")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - translation: P
Cover & track-list

Completoriuma; Missa Rorate

[BC] Tatiana Pozarska, soprano; Robert Lawaty, alto; Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, Robert Pozarski, tenor; Miroslaw Borczynski, Stanislaw Szczycinski, bass
[VCT] Magdalena Gruziel, soprano; Agnieszka Drazczyk, contralto; Andrzej Borzym jr, tenor; Leszek Kubiak, bass
[GSC, soli] Michal Krwywka, Adam Skoblinski
[CA] Slawomir Cichor, Jacek Jurkowski, trumpet; Robert Krajewski, trombone; Leszek Firek, Justyna Skatulnik, violin; Teresa Piech, viola; Michal Sawicki, organ

Writing a review of this disc is not an easy task. Gorczycki is not exactly a household name and his music isn't often performed in concerts and on disc, at least not outside Poland. The Polish musical landscape of his time is also rather unfamiliar, and if the liner-notes are not very well translated into English it is not easy to make sense of a disc like the present one.

Let me first turn to Gorczycki's biography. From about 1678 to 1683 he studied philosophy at Prague University and then theology at Vienna University until 1689. In early 1690 at the latest he moved to Cracow; here he was ordained in 1692. Shortly afterwards he became professor at the Congregatio Missionis at Chelmno. Among his duties was the direction of the music in the chapel. In 1694 he returned to Cracow where he became connected to Wawel Cathedral. In 1698 he was appointed as musical director; he held this position until his death. It seems that he started composing in the early 1690s.

If one wouldn't know that the two works on this disc are from the pen of one and the same composer one wouldn't guess it. They are fundamentally different and reflect the two sides of Gorczycki as a composer of sacred music - the only genre to which he seems to have contributed. The Missa Rorate is a cappella and largely written in the stile antico of the 16th century. The only 'modern' element is the inclusion of several episodes for solo voices. This allows for a little more agility in the treatment of the text, but these passages are still far away from the concertato episodes in the Completorium.

The latter is an entirely different work. "Completorium is the last hour of the day, said before going to rest. Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki's Completorium is festive in nature, i.e. sung to close holiday celebrations", according to the booklet. The latter explains the scoring with trumpets which are involved, for instance, in the Nunc dimittis. This is a modern work which shows the influence of the Italian music of the 18th century. That suggests that it must have been written at a much later date than the Mass, but the liner-notes don't give the year of composition.

The problems in assessing this music especially concerns the Mass. Parts of it are in plainchant, taken from the so-called Piotrków books: "the liturgical books of the Roman Church for Polish dioceses published between the sixteenth and seventeenth century in Cracow. These books were the Polish Church's answer to liturgical changes after the Council of Trent". Unfortunately it is not quite clear where the plainchant ends and where Gorczycki's music begins. The tracklist doesn't indicate what parts are from his pen and what has been taken from these liturgical books. These were chosen "primarily by reading the score's cantus firmus, i.e. the chant melody. This is how we identified the Introit Rorate coeli, the Advent Kyrie eleison, the offertory Ave Maria, and the sending forth Ite missa est." This suggests that these parts are all monophonic, but that is not the case. Rorate coeli, for instance, is partly polyphonic, but where does the counterpoint come from? Is that improvised? The liner-notes go on thus: "In fact, these Mass parts are built with the elaborate use of three voices to entwine the fourth, which sings the chant melody". I really don't understand what exactly is meant with this statement. There is more about the rest of the Mass, but that is about as clearly understandable as what I just quoted. Was the translation of the Polish text made by Google?

This is all a terrible shame. Gorczycki's music seems quite interesting, but raises some questions which remain largely unanswered. I also would like to know more about the way the plainchant is performed, for instance the readings. These are sung very slowly and with ornamentation on some notes. These performances remind me of traditional music from cultures around the Mediterranean. There are also clear reminiscences of the way Marcel Pérès performs liturgical music with his ensemble Organum. I just wondered whether the plainchant is sung in a traditional way - as it was always done in Poland - or is rather based on historical research.

As far as the performances are concerned, these are generally alright, but I am not really impressed. Now and then there is a lack of synchronisation in the performance of plainchant. The solo voices don't always blend that well and in the Completorium their intonation is sometimes suspect. In this piece I would have liked more dynamic differentiation; especially the playing of the violins is rather flat. I wonder whether the performance of the Missa Rorate with instruments playing colla voce would have been a historically plausible option.

Considering that Polish music of the baroque era is little known, it deserves better performances and especially a much better documentation, directed at the international market. Only then there is a chance that it well be included in the mainstream of baroque repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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