From the days of
the ‘Young Poland’ movement in the first decades of the Twentieth
Century, a prominent strand in Polish music has been made up
of composers eager, even determined, either to be in touch with
the most ‘advanced’ musical developments elsewhere or, indeed,
to be themselves significant innovators. Whether in, say, the
Japanese-influenced work of Jan Maklakiewocz, or the experimentalism
of composers such as Boguslaw Schaeffer and Kazimierz Serocki,
stylistic originality has been one of the hallmarks of a lot
of the most interesting Polish music.
Fascinating as much
such music has been, the danger is that it distracts our attention
too completely from the work of more conservative figures. Provided
that the composer is true to his/her own sensibility considerations
of stylistic innovation ought not to be central to our judgement
of his/her work – though the temptation is all too ready to
let it be so.
is a predominantly conservative composer, his dominant idioms
being essentially diatonic and his works more notable for what
they owe to the romantic past than for their anticipations of
any musical ‘future’ (real or imaginary). But there is certainly
much to admire and enjoy in this selection of his choral works.
The most substantial
work here is the Te Deum. It is a passionate and flamboyant
piece, ringing with praise in its employment of solo voices, organ
and two percussionists. There are some splendid noises and the
whole communicates a fervour which, while it may not convince
one that it is wholly spiritual in nature, is certainly engaging.
At times we seem not to be a million miles away from the choral
writing of Carl Orff. Both soloists acquit themselves well, soprano
being possessed of a particularly striking voice. She is a soloist
at the Warsaw Opera.
The programme is made
up, otherwise, of a series of miniatures – including the aptly
titled ‘Missa minima’, which sets the Kyrie eleison, the Sanctus
and the Agnus Dei in less than four and a half minutes!
Swider’s ‘Cantus gloriosus’
has been taken up by quite a few choirs outside Poland and listening
to this excellent performance by the Polish Chamber Choir it isn’t
hard to understand why. From the subdued ‘Allelujah’ of its opening
measures it builds in complexity and sets its performers quite
a number of tests before its climax in a radiant closing ‘Allelujah’.
All the tests are passed with flying colours in this performance.
Every single one of
the fourteen pieces which preface the Te Deum here has
things of interest to offer, including, for example, the subtly
echoic patterns of ‘Lux perpetua’ or the intimate, dignified textures
of ‘Czego chcesz od nas Panie’.
After studying with
Petrassi in Rome, Swider taught composition, counterpoint and
harmony in Poland, largely in Katowice, for some forty years.
He has also been much involved in the choral world, as an adjudicator
and the like. So, too, has the conductor Jan Łukaszewski,
and their sheer professional expertise and experience in the
genre is everywhere evident on this CD.
The CD booklet contains
a general essay on Swider and a certain amount on his choral
writing. But it is rather short on dates, which is a shame,
as it would have been interesting to try to form some idea of
how Swider has developed as a choral composer. Texts are provided,
with German translations of the Latin or Polish originals.
the modern choral tradition will find much to enjoy here.
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf