musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Liturgical music from Poland

[I] "Musica in monasteriis femineis in Polonia minore, Vol. 1: Staniatki"
Flores Rosarum (Susi Ferfolgia); Benedictine Nuns of St. Adalbert's Abbey, Staniatkia; Filip Presseisen, virginalb; Bartosz Saldan, bellsc
rec: June 29 - July 1, 2015, Staniatki, Benedictine Nuns Monastery
Dux - 1242 (© 2015) (54'28")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - translations: P
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
Venite, exultemus domino, invitatory
improvisationb; Dominum salvatorem nostrum, antiphon; Gabriel angelus apparuit marie, antiphon; Maria dixit, antiphon; Respondit angelus, antiphon; Ecce dies veniunt, responsory; Great O Antiphons to Magnificat
improvisationc; Gaude et laetare, antiphon; Orietur sicut sol salvator, antiphon; Sancta et immaculata virginitas, responsory; Beata viscera, responsory; Parvulus filius hodie, antiphon; Hodie Christus natus est, antiphon
improvisationb; Pueri Hebreorum, antiphon; Osanna filio David, antiphon; In monte Oliveti, responsory; Ecce quomodo moritur, responsory; Pange lingua, hymn
improvisationb; Alleluia, antiphon; Regina celi, antiphon; Virtute magna, responsory; Hec est Iherusalem, responsory; Alleluia, antiphon
Ave Mariaa

Adrianna Bujak, Susi Ferfoglia, Magdalena Grzonka, Maria Klich, Anita Pyrek, Katarzyna Smialkowska, Katarzyna Wiwer

[II] "Castrum doloris"
Bornus Consort; Vocal Quartet 'Tempus'; Ensemble of Ancient Instruments 'Concerto Antemurale'; The Times of the Plague Orchestra; Schola Gregoriana Silesiensis; The Gorczycki Sarmatian Choir
Dir: Robert Pozarski
rec: Nov 10, 2013 (live), Wroclaw, St Bartholomew Church
Dux - 1104 (© 2014) (78'23")
Liner-notes: E/P; lyrics - translations: P
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

[in order of appearance]
[intrada] Marcia lugubre; Maciej WRONOWICZ (c1645-c1700): De profundis; Piotrków chant: Miserere, toni IV; anon: Canzona; Damian STACHOWICZ (1658-1699): Missa requiem (Requiem aeternam; Kyrie); Piotrków chant: Lectio beati Pauli Apostoli; [graduale] Requiem aeternam, toni II; [tractus] Absolve Domine, toni VIII; Damian STACHOWICZ: Missa requiem (Dies irae); Piotrków chant: Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Ioannem; Damian STACHOWICZ: Missa requiem (Domine Iesu; Sanctus; Agnus Dei); Piotrków chant: [communio] Lux aeterna, toni VIII; anon (Vietoris Codex): Canzona; Piotrków chant: [responsorium] Subvenite, toni I; [rresponsorium] Qui Lazarum, toni IV; [resposorium] Domine, quando veneris, toni VIII; [responsorium] Ne recorderis, toni V; anon: [responsorium] Libera kielcense a 3 voci; Piotrków chant: [antiphona] In paradisum, toni VIII; Canticum Benedictus, toni II; The Time of the Plague Orchestra: Canzona (after song 'Dobry Jesu' and canzona by Georg Philipp Telemann, 1681-1767)

[BC] Anna Mikolajczik, Marta Czarkowska, soprano; Karol Bartosinski, alto; Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, Robert Pozarski, tenor; Miroslaw Borczynski, baritone; Stanislaw Szczycinski, bass
[VQ Tempus] Barbara Tumanowicz, Ewelina Krzywka, soprano; Agnieszka Drazczyk, contralto; Andrzej Borzym jr, tenor; Leszek Kubiak, bass
[Concerto Antemurale] Igor Cecocho, Jacek Jurkowski, clarino; Leszek Firek, Justyna Skatulnik, violin; Michal Sawicki, organ
[The Times of the Plague Orchestra] Pawel Iwaszkiewicz, tenor dulcian, great bock; Maciej Kazinski, bass dulcian, great bock, drums

The Polish label Dux pays much attention to Polish music history. That results in highly interesting recordings of repertoire which is hardly known outside Poland and often even in Poland itself. Recent recordings included music by Polish composers of the 17th and 18th centuries which were under the influence of the Italian style but the two discs which are to be reviewed here focus on liturgical repertoire of a more traditional character. The first includes repertoire from the 14th and 15th centuries, the second music which was written in the late 17th century. However, despite the distance in time these two discs have much in common: the sacred content of the texts but especially the inclusion of plainchant. However, there is a strong difference in the way plainchant is performed in these recordings and that makes for a very interesting comparison.

The first disc opens a series of recordings devoted to the repertoire of women's convents in Poland. The Benedictine Abbey of Staniatki was probably founded between 1228 and 1238. The early-Gothic church which was built shortly afterwards includes two 16th-century images of the Blessed Virgin Mary which were the object of a widespread religious cult as well as the late-Gothic sculpture of Crucified Christ. The monastery has survived the political turmoils in Polish history and is still in use today. The disc ends with a bonus track: the Benedictine Nuns of St Adalbert's Abbey sing the Ave Maria which they use to sing every day after lunch. The other music is performed by Flores Rosarum, a vocal ensemble of women's voices specialised in early music and historical performance practice. They sing music which is taken from the oldest antiphonary in the archives of the convent, entitled Antiphonale iuxta constitudinem Ordinis Patris Sancti Benedicti. De tempore. It contains antiphons and responsories used by the choir of nuns during the Divine Services and for many years served as the principal songbook in the Staniatki convent. It dates from 1536 and was put together by the Benedictine Friars in nearby Tyniec. Obviously music was sung in Staniatki since its foundation but its entire archive was destroyed in a fire in 1518. The antiphonary of 1536 was used to replace the lost manuscripts.

The disc opens with the ringing of the church bells which is followed by the invitatory Venite, exultemus domino. The rest of the programme is divided into four sections each of which is devoted to a period of the ecclesiastical year: Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Every chapter opens with an instrumental improvisation and includes a number of chants intended for the respective period of the year. The Advent section includes chants about the meeting of the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary and the seven famous O Antiphons. In the Christmas section we find some well-known texts, such as Beata viscera and Hodie Christus natus est. Among the pieces for Lent are some responsories for Holy Week which have been set by many composers in the course of history: In monte Oliveti and Ecce quomodo moritur. It ends with Pange lingua, the famous hymn for Palm Sunday. Lastly we turn to Easter: one of the pieces is the antiphon Regina celi and we also hear two settings of only one word: "Alleluia" which is repeated a number of times expressing the joy at the Resurrection of Christ.

Obviously this music from a manuscript owned by a women's convent is sung by women's voices. It is more or less performed as we are used to hear it. The main difference is the use of historical pronunciation which is comparable to how Latin was pronounced in the German speaking world. The singing of the nuns is very different: not only in quality but also in their using the Italian pronunciation which has become the standard across the world since the early 20th century. Even so, it is nice to hear the nuns themselves and get an idea of how this repertoire still serves their religious duties. The singing of Flores Rosarum is excellent.

What we generally call Poland was in fact the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which existed from 1569 to 1795. It was a dualistic state, a bi-confederation, of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch, who was both the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania. The second disc focuses on a practice which concerns the burials of members of the nobility, even the lowest ranking among them, within this Commonwealth. "First, a special construction was built: Castrum doloris [which explains this disc's title], which was a type of altar, or even chapel surrounding the catafalque. On this construction, the body of the deceased was then laid with solemnity." A castrum doloris often included things like paintings, decorations and texts about the qualities of the deceased. "To complete this event, a special theatrum mortis was to be realized (...), i.e. an elaborate liturgical ceremony with music, gestures made by the officiator and assistant, and members of the laity moving about the above-mentioned 'stage'". The liturgical action included sacred songs and instrumental interludes. The programme intends to give an impression of what could have been sung during the ceremony. The largest part consists of plainchant. Only two composers are represented: De profundis, one of the two penitential psalms performed during the ceremony, is sung here in a setting for two sopranos, bass and bc by Maciej Wronowicz. It is one of only four extant compositions from his pen and shows the influence of the Italian style. From 1680 to 1684 Wronowicz was music director of Wroclaw Cathedral. The other composer is Damian Stachowicz who for 25 years was a member of the Piarist order in Lowicz near Warsaw and directed the music in the college chapel. His Missa requiem is scored for five voices, two trumpets, two violins and bc.The sections which Stachowicz has not set are performed here in plainchant. Sometimes the transition from Stachowicz to plainchant is quite unexpected, for instance in 'Hostias et preces': this section is entirely sung in plainchant until the last line, "Quam olim Abrahae promisisti, et semini eius" where we again here the music by Stachowicz.

The pieces by Wronowicz and Stachowicz are nice to listen to and receive fine performances. However, the plainchant - which is called here Piotrków chant - is the most interesting part of this recording. Most of it is sung by the The Gorczycki Sarmatian Choir which specializes in Sarmatian chant. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any information about this on the internet; New Grove has also nothing to offer here. Apparently it is a specific way of performing plainchant. The sound of the voices and the small ornaments reminded me of the singing of ensembles specializing in performing traditional music from southern Europe, such as Sicily and Sardinia. These could find their origins in Byzantium; the Ensemble Organum also experiments with performances of liturgical music in this style. I also see a link to the music of the Russian Orthodox Church - which also has its origins in Byzantium - and there are even some pieces which seem to show the influence of the Notre Dame School. In the responsories Qui Lazarum and Domine, quando veneris the tenors sing an ornamented part above a tenor sung here by the basses. The Lectio and the Evangelium are sung at a remarkably slow tempo, with many of these small ornaments I already referred to; sometimes the voice slides from one note to the other. The anonymous 3-part responsory Libera kielcense is sung in the same style which has a quite peculiar effect. Like Flores Rosarum the choir uses historical pronunciation. But the mixture of female and male voices seems in contradiction to historical evidence.

This is just fascinating stuff. It is a shame that the booklet doesn't give any information about aspects of performance practice, in particular of plainchant. It also includes only Polish translations of the lyrics which is regrettable; however, translations of many texts are probably available on the internet. Moreover, I would have liked a specification of which performers participate in which pieces. But the main thing is that both discs give us the opportunity to become acquainted with unknown musical traditions.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Flores Rosarum

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