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Marcin MIELCZEWSKI (? - 1651): "Virgo prudentissima - i inne religijne koncerty"

Les Traversées Baroques
Dir: Étienne Meyer

rec: Nov 1 - 4, 2010, Sarrebourg (Moselle), Église Saint-Martin de Hoff
K617 - K617226 (© 2011) (67'37")
Liner-notes: E/F/P; no lyrics
Cover & track-list

Giovanni GABRIELI (1554-1612): Canzon 1. toni a 8 (C 170) [1]; Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665): Credidi; Laudate pueri Dominum; Marcin MIELCZEWSKI: Confitebor tibi Domine; Lauda Jerusalem; Magnificat 3. toni; Nisi Dominus; Plaudite manibus; Victimae paschali laudes; Virgo prudentissima; Bartlomiej PEKIEL (?-1670): Dulcis amor Jesu; Francesco USPER (1560-1640): Canzona a 8 [2]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Gabrieli, Sacrae symphoniae, 1597; [2] Francesco Usper, Compositioni armoniche nelle quali si contengono motetti, sinfonie, sonate, canzoni & capricci ... et in fine la battaglia, 1619

[soli] Cécile Van Wetter, Clara Coutouly, soprano; Paulin Bündgen, alto; Hugues Primard, Vincent Bouchot, tenor; Renaud Delaigue, bass
[instr] Judith Pacquier, Richard Seda, cornett; Helena Zemanova, Dagmar Valentova, violin; Ronald Martin, Jakub Michl, viola da gamba; Ondrej Sokol, Pavel Novotný, Franck Poitrineau, sackbut; Mélanie Flahaut, dulcian; Nicolas Muzy, theorbo; Pablo Kornfeld, organ

Geographically speaking Poland is very much part of the European continent. However, from a musical point of view it is rather marginal: very little music by Polish composers before the romantic era is part of the standard repertoire of performing musicians and ensembles. It is mostly thanks to Polish ensembles that some of this repertoire has come to the surface and is available on disc. The present disc is a rare example of a recording by a non-Polish ensemble. It is devoted to Marcin Mielczewski, one of the most important Polish composers from the first half of the 17th century. The year of his death indicates that he was a contemporary of Monteverdi, and that is exposed in his oeuvre.

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. The bishop's court stayed mostly in Warsaw and its immediate environment. Mielczewski's oeuvre is of considerable size and variety. Although he wrote music in the stile antico, the modern concertato style as practised in Italy in the first half of the 17th century is dominant. Apart from sacred concertos for solo voices he composed large-scale polychoral pieces in which elements of the concertato style are incorporated through passages for solo voices. It seems that these works rather reflect the Roman style of polychorality than the Venetian, as the choirs have the same scoring.

It is especially these works which show a striking similarity to the sacred music of Monteverdi, for instance the psalms in the latter's Vespers. Virgo prudentissima has the same texture as the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, and has also the text "Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis" as its cantus firmus. The liner-notes don't give any information as to which extent Mielczewski has indicated the scoring of the various parts. It seems that at least some of the pieces have independent instrumental parts which are here played on violins and cornetts.

The programme is extended with compositions by contemporaries, which were either Polish or worked in Poland for some time. The first goes for Bartlomiej Pekiel, a composer probably of the next generation, as he died in 1670; however, we don't know when he was born. For some time he was deputy director of the royal court in Warsaw; the musical director was the Italian Marco Scacchi. When the latter returned to Italy in 1649 Pekiel succeeded him. In 1655 the court was disbanded after Warsaw being captured by the Swedes. Pekiel moved to Cracow where he succeeded Franciszek Lilius as director of music of the Wawel cathedral chapel. Like Mielczewski he combined polychorality with the concertato style. Dulcis amor Jesu is a specimen of the latter and written for five solo voices and basso continuo.

The presence of Marco Scacchi in a key position at the court in Warsaw bears witness to the Italian leanings of leading Polish circles. He was not the only Italian who worked in Poland. Tarquinio Merula worked as royal organist and chamber musician to the later King Ladislaw IV from 1621 to 1625. His two compositions included in the programme are written in the modern concertato style.

The pieces by Giovanni Gabrieli and Francesco Usper are included on the basis of the general interest in Italian music. Gabrieli's Canzon 1. toni was easily available as it was part of the collection printed in 1597. Usper's Canzona a 8 is from a collection whose only extant copy has been preserved in Cracow which gives some plausibility to the assumption that his music could have been played in Warsaw.

Mielczewski's music is of excellent quality and there is really no reason to ignore it. I am eagerly looking forward to further explorations of his oeuvre. There is every reason to welcome this disc, not only because of the compositions by Mielczewski - and those by Pekiel and Merula - but also because of the outstanding performances by Les Traversées Baroques. They do this repertoire justice in every possible way. The soloists give fine accounts of the pieces for solo voices, and although the booklet doesn't indicate it I assume they also participate in the polychoral works, taking care of the solo episodes. Anyway, there is a great amount of coherence between soli and tutti passages, which is essential as these works are not intended for soloists and choir but for an ensemble. The instrumentalists are equally impressive.

It is just a shame that a disc of this importance omits any lyrics and translations. The exact scoring of the polychoral pieces is also omitted. This disc deserved a better documentation.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Les Traversées Baroques

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