musica Dei donum
Vocal Quartet 'Tempus';
The Gorczycki Sarmatian Choir;
Dir: Robert Pozarski
rec: Oct 2014, Warsaw, [Church of Immaculate Conception]
Dux - 1172 (© 2014) (78'02")
Cover, track-list & booklet
[in order of appearance]
[Ksiegi rodzaju Jezusa Chrystusa];
Marcin MIELCZEWSKI (?-1651):
Currite populi - [Quia puer est natus];
[introitus] Dominus dixit ad me;
Missa pro Nativitate Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Kyrie; Gloria);
Lectio Epistolae beati Pauli Apostoli;
[graduale] Tecum principium;
[alleluia] Dominus dixit;
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam;
Parvule pupule, pastorela;
Missa pro Nativitate Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Credo);
[offertorium] Laetentur caeli;
Missa pro Nativitate Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Sanctus);
ADAM WAGROWICENSIS (c1600-1629):
In Elevatione cum Fantasia I 2. toni;
Missa pro Nativitate Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Agnus Dei);
[communio] In splendoribus;
Stanislaw Sylwester SZARZYNSKI (late 17th C):
Sonata a 3 in D;
Ktos o tej dobie, pastorela;
Ite missa est;
Stanislaw Sylwester SZARZYNSKI:
Gloria in excelsis Deo
[Bornus Consort] Antek Zagajewski, treble;
Tatiana Pozarska, soprano;
Robert Pozarski, alto, tenor;
Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, tenor;
Miroslaw Borczynski, baritone;
Stanislaw Szczycinski, bass
[Tempus] Marta Czarkowska, soprano;
Robert Lawaty, alto;
Andrzej Borzym jr, tenor;
Leszek Kubiak, bass
[Concerto Antemurale] Leszek Firek, Justyna Skatulnik, violin;
Maciej Kazinski, dulcian, viola da gamba, violone;
Michal Sawicki, organ
[Trombastic] Piott Wawreniuk, Piotr Dabrowski, Michal Kiljan, Robert Krajewski, sackbut
Regularly the Polish label Dux releases discs with liturgical repertoire. Recently I reviewed two of them, one of them with the same ensembles which appear on the present disc. The concept is the same: a mixture of polyphony, plainchant and instrumental music as part of a kind of liturgical reconstruction.
In the present case this can't be taken too literally. Obviously almost any liturgical reconstruction has to be speculative to a certain extent, as in most cases we just don't know exactly which music was performed at a certain occasion. But this programme includes pieces from different times: Parvule pupule, the pastorela which gave this disc its title, is from around 1699, but its counterpart Ktos o tej dobie is given as being written before 1738, and the instrumental piece by Adam z Wagrowca dates from before 1629, the year the composer died. Considering that 'art music' was mostly not performed very long after the time of its composition it seems unlikely that all these pieces were ever performed together at one occasion.
However, it hardly matters as this disc wants to show what a mass in Christmastime may have been like. The mass ordinary is from the pen of Marcin Mielczewski. It is not known when he was born, but we do know that he was a pupil of Franciszek Lilius. The latter was himself a pupil of Frescobaldi and it is probably through him that Mielczewski became acquainted with the Italian style. The first documented evidence of his activities as a musician dates from 1632, when he was a member of the royal chapel in Warsaw. From 1645 until his death he was in the service of Karol Ferdynand Waza, bishop of Plock and brother of King Ladislaw IV. His Missa pro nativitate Domini Nostri Jesu Christi is for four voices and homophonic. It is based on the hymn Puer natus in Bethlehem which is used as the mass's cantus firmus. It is notable that this mass has been preserved in two different versions, distant from one another by around 50 years. Interestingly the later version includes a part for the basso continuo which is absent in the first version. This seems to reflect the stylistic development of the composer.
The mass is rather concise; it hardly explains the playing time of this disc. The latter is the result of the performance of the plainchant which is rather slow. This is not so much the result of a particular interpretation of plainchant as we know it but seems to be a feature of what is known as Sarmatian chant. On Wikipedia one can find some interesting information about Sarmatism. Other chants are in Piotrkow chant, about which I haven't been able to find any information. The programme starts with 'The Book of the generation of Jesus Christ', as we find it in the first 16 verses from chapter 1 of the Gospel of St Matthew. This takes more than ten minutes. The melody is in plainchant from a collection of 1655, but it is sung here to a Polish text from a Polish translation of the Bible from 1593. It is not only the slow tempo which is notable but also the way it is sung which shows the influence of the music from the Near East. Could this be the effect of the belief that the people of the Polish Commonwealth descended from the ancient Iranic Sarmatians?
Alongside the liturgical chant we hear the two pastorelas I already referred to. These are traditional songs for Christmastide and their inclusion seems justified considering the fact that since ancient times popular music has penetrated sacred music and in particular music for Christmastide. Strictly speaking the motet Currite populi by Mielczewski is also not part of the Mass. In fact this is a piece for Easter, but here it has been adapted for the occasion by adding the verse Quia puer est natus, an example of the traditional practice of creating contrafacta. The disc ends with another pastorela, this time by one of Poland's main composers of the 17th century, Stanislaw Sylwester Szarzynski.
Recordings like this are very interesting for various reasons. Firstly, it includes music which cannot be performed out of its context; especially the chant recorded here cannot be performed separately. Secondly, it sheds light on chant which is different from what we know. Historical performance practice has made us aware of the fact that there was quite some difference between liturgical music in different parts of Europe before eveything was standardized during the 19th century. These differences not only concern the way plainchant was performed but even the music and the texts which were used. Discs like the present one contribute to a more differentiated picture of liturgical practices. Thirdly, it shows how music which can be performed separately - as most masses are performed today - was used for liturgical purposes. It helps to understand that most music written before the mid-18th century was written with a specific purpose - "art for art's sake" was something out of composers' minds at the time.
The performances here are alright without being outstanding. The vocal ensemble includes some voices which are a bit shaky and not very nice. The main attraction of this disc is the chant. Obviously, as I am not acquainted with this style of singing there is no way I can assess it but it sounds very 'authentic' to my ears. I at least find it highly fascinating to hear such a completely different and unusual way to perform plainchant. It is a shame that the booklet doesn't provide us with more detailed information about it.
The liner-notes are rather concise and the texts are only given in Polish and English translations; the original texts - with the exception of those in Polish - are not included.
Johan van Veen (© 2016)
Vocal Quartet 'Tempus'