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CD: Musica Sacra


Paweł ŁUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
Veni creator (2004) [11:59]
Messa per voci e fiati (2004) [16:40]
Organ Concerto (1996) [10:19]
Gaudium et Spes (1997) [11:11]
Symphony No.2 Festinemus amare homines’ (1997) [23:51]
List of performers in the footnotes
rec. location and dates not provided. DDD
MUSICA SACRA EDITION 013 [74:46]

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Paweł ŁUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
Seven Great Advent Antiphonae for mixed a-cappella chorus
(1995-99) [40:44]
O Sapientia (1998)
O Adonai (1995-98)
O radix Jesse (1997-98)
O clavis david (1999)
O Oriens (1997)
O Rex Gentium (1999)
O Emmanuel (1996-97)
Ave Maria for SATB double chorus a-capella (1992) [4:12]
Beatus Vir for SATB mixed chorus a-capella (1996-97) [5:30]
Beatus Vir, sanctus Adalbertus (1997)
Beatus Vir, sanctus Martinus (1996)
Polish Chamber Choir - Schola Cantorum Gedanensis/Jan Łukaszewski
rec. 19-21 March 1999, St. Nicholas Church, Gdańsk, Poland. DDD
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0029 [51:39]

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Paweł ŁUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross) for counter-tenor, tenor, baritone, narrator, mixed chorus and organ (1999-2000) [55:24]
Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor)
Allan Clayton (tenor)
Andrew Foster-Williams (baritone)
Roger Allam (narrator)
Polyphony; Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton
rec. March 2008, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, England. DDD
HYPERION CDA67724 [55:24]
Experience Classicsonline

Born in 1968 at Częstochowa, Paweł Łukaszewski is one of the leading figures of the new generation of Polish composers. His reputation is increasing as a prominent contemporary composer who writes in many genres, although, he is principally associated with sacred music. Devotional subjects and themes clearly inspire Łukaszewski greatly and comprise the majority of his output; sacred music infused with the spiritual fervour of Roman Catholicism.
 
Paweł is the son of the composer Wojciech Łukaszewski (1936-78) and the brother of composer Marcin Łukaszewski (b.1972). A recipient of many prestigious compositional awards, Paweł Łukaszewski’s scores are contained on over fifty recordings. Notably he was awarded the first prize at the Frédéric Chopin Academy of Music Competition for his Arrampicata for orchestra (1992). Although he is undoubtedly his own man Łukaszewski has informed me that several composers have been influential in his compositional life: his master Prof. Marian Borkowski, his father Wojciech Łukaszewski and he admires the music of John Tavener, Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt.
 
At this point I feel that a few biographical details are necessary. Łukaszewski graduated from the National High School of Music in Częstochowa in 1987 with distinction. In addition he is a graduate of the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, Warsaw where he studied with Prof. Andrzej Wróbel’s cello class in 1992 and Prof. Marian Borkowski’s composition class in 1995. He graduated in 1994 from the Art Managing School of the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań and also in 1996 from the Post-Graduate Choirmaster School at the Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz. In 2000 and 2007 he received a Ph.D and Ph.D Hab. respectively in composition from the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music where has been a Professor since 2001 and Director of Counterpoint Studies since 2002 in the Department of Composition, Conducting and Theory of Music.
 
I first heard his music at my local Recorded Music Society where movements from his beautiful cycle of seven Antiphonae were played to considerable interest and much acclaim. In the booklet notes to the Musica Sacra Edition disc of Sacred Music, Ewelina Sroczyńska has written in detail on Łukaszewski’s compositional style that includes the insight, “in his works he explores quasi tonal matter, commonly known nowadays as neotonal.”
 
Sacred Music, MUSICA SACRA EDITION 013
The first disc is on the Polish label Musica Sacra Edition and consists of five scores: Veni creator (2004), Messa per voci e fiati (2004), Organ Concerto (1996), Gaudium et Spes (1997) and the Symphony No.2 Festinemus amare homines’ (1997).
 
The Veni creator (2004) for two unaccompanied choirs uses the Roman Catholic rite Veni Creator Spiritus that is sung at Pentecost, vespers and on solemn occasions such as: a Church Dedication, Confirmation of Bishops and Holy Orders. The score, recorded live here, begins with the text Accénde lumen sénsibus (Thy light to evr'y thought impart). Łukaszewski uses the whole text of the hymn Veni Creator. At the beginning of the score is the German translation and at the end the original Latin text.

The Veni Creator was written to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and was commissioned by the Akademie Klausenhof in Germany and the Polish Ministry of Culture. In the score Łukaszewski has fused elements of both the German and Polish cultures. At the start there is one bar taken from J. S. Bach’s Motet Komm, Jesu, komm and in the middle there is a one bar quote from a Chopin Scherzo. The Latin language provides a balance between these two cultures that Łukaszewski hopes, “ can be a bridge between our nations.” The composer has pointed out that the first performance of the Veni Creator was on the 2nd April 2005 in Gdansk, poignantly just 27 minutes after the Polish born Pope John Paul II died.

In the Veni creator the ethereal tones of the a-cappella chorus of the excellent Polish Chamber Choir washes over the listener like a balm. There are a couple of episodes of greater weight and intensity that soon drift back to the prevailing mood of calm. I noticed some background noise on the recordings but nothing to worry about with the otherwise agreeable sound. Jan Łukaszewski’s Polish Chamber Choir give a dignified interpretation of solemnity blended with sheer beauty of tone.

The Messa per voci e fiati is a Latin setting of the ordinary mass of the Roman Catholic rite that was completed in 2004. It is cast in six movements one of which is instrumental. The Mass is scored for a choir and woodwind octet, comprising pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Łukaszewski was commissioned to write the Mass by the Medical University in Lublin, Poland. The composer states, “It is possible to perform this work during Holy Mass.” The score was recorded live from the Monastery at Jasna Góra, Częstochowa, Poland, occupied by the Order of the Pauline Fathers, famous as the home of the miraculous icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.
 
The Messa per voci e fiati commences with an uplifting Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) with the woodwind octet providing light orchestral accompaniment. The attractive and quirkily melodic Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the highest) has a similar sound world with slightly more pointed writing followed by the Offertorium an orchestral interlude of a quasi-bucolic character. Inhabiting a similar sound-world to the first and second movements the Sanctus (Holy) has at times a more assertive quality. The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is the longest movement taken at a slightly slower pace. Noticeable is the central section where the mood gradually builds in intensity. The shortest movement is the Ite missa est (Go, it is the dismissal) that demands a chant-like rendition of the text. The splendidly matched voices of the Holst Singers under Stephen Layton provide polished and splendidly consistent performances. Some slight background noise is discernable on this live recording although it didn’t detract from the pleasing sound.
 
A commission from the Organ Music Conservatory Festival in Legnica, Poland the Concerto for Organ and Strings from 1996 is a magnificent score in the classical model that deserves to be better known. The Organ Concerto opens with a Moderato movement of moody, bold and restless organ writing over galloping low strings. Tinged with a pastoral character I enjoyed the ethereal, still and mysterious central movement Adagio. The glorious theme on the strings is affecting and could easily become quite a Radio hit if given the right exposure. In the closing movement marked Moderato I was struck by the ardent and sparkling waves of sound. Noticeably the musical language is principally tonal with the occasional unconventional harmony. The Concerto Avenna Ensemble under Andrzej Mysiński is to be congratulated for their undeniably impressive playing and Wacław Golonka is the talented organist. Recorded in the magnificent Legnica Cathedral, Poland with an impressive sound quality.
 
A commission from Polish Radio the Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) is the name of the ‘Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World’ from documents of the Second Vatican Council promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1965. Completed in 1997 the Gaudium et Spes is scored for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra. The detailed instrumentation is 2 bassoons, 2 contrafagotto, 4 horns, 4 trombones, 24 violins, 10 violas, 8 cellos, 6 double bass and battery of percussion with 4-5 players, a piano, soprano soloist and a choir of some 80 members.
 
The Gaudium et Spes is the first movement of the composer’s Symphony No.1 - Symphony of Providence that combines with the other three movements: Exsultet (2003), Terra nova et caelum novum (2006) and Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum (2008).
 
Strings and percussion dominate the early section of the score with a consistently deep and dark coloration to the writing. The outstanding female soloist soprano Anna Mikołajczyk-Niewiedział provides a magnificent change of mood before the writing develops a stormy quality. The Orkiestra i Chór Filharmonii Podlaskiej under conductor Piotr Borkowski invite admiration for their thoughtful and expressive performances.
 
The feature work of this compelling Musica Sacra Edition release is the Symphony No.2 Festinemus amare homines’ (Let’s hurry to love people) a Latin setting of an essentially secular text by Polish priest and poet Rev. Jan Twardowski. Completed in 2005 the score was Łukaszewski’s postdoctoral thesis for his esteemed habilitation qualification at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, Warsaw. The score was a commission from Universitas Cantat - International Festival of University Choirs from Poznan, Poland. For this recording the numerous choirs that were attending the above choir festival participated in the performance for this recording.
 
For his setting of Twardowski’s Polish text Łukaszewski was provided with a Latin translation by a renowned scholar. The composer makes the observation that any new Latin text is a rare occurrence in Poland today. Łukaszewski felt that the Latin language suited the setting as the translation could conceal some of the Polish words from Twardowski’s poem that are awkward to set such as ‘telephone’, ‘dolphin’ and ‘cow’. An English translation is provided in the footnotes.
 
The Symphony No.2 Festinemus amare homines’ is cast in four movements with the titles: 1. Festinemus (Let's hurry), 2. Tempus (Time), 3. Amamus (Love), 4. Decedunt (They leave). The composer explained that his, “…general idea was a reduction of sound material and harmony. I also decided not compose here for winds; the pianos are the percussion instruments in this score.” The score calls for large forces comprising of: 2 sopranos, 2 SATB choirs (with 60 voices each), 2 pianos, a symphony orchestra of 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, a large battery of percussion for 5-6 players, 24 violins, 10 violas, 6 cellos and 6 double bass.
 
A powerful and dramatic work dominated by thunderclap-like percussion, throbbing strings and massed choirs provide a sense of fear and foreboding. There are episodes of relative calm, yet one senses an underlying sense of nervous anxiety. To open the Symphony in the Festinemus at 1:45-2:18 remarkable is the tolling bell, the expressive and luxuriantly voiced female soloist and the rather recessed choir that combine to provide a welcome respite from the prevailing menacing character. In the Tempus I was struck by the vividly moving tones of the female soloist that opens the movement. The threatening and powerful Amamus with its pounding percussion communicates a dark and threatening mood. Of note is the ethereal mood of the repetitive chants of Licet maius from the choir followed by the tolling bell and the recessed choir. The emotionally charged final movement Decedunt is dominated by the two pianos and tough pounding percussion over fretful and pulsating strings that exude a heady and exotic middle-eastern flavour. The remarkable power, energy and drama of the Symphony No.2 Festinemus amare homines’ makes the score one that just has to be heard.
 
This Musica Sacra Edition disc is intended for the Polish home market and there is little in the way of any English translations of the titles and texts. In addition it is difficult to ascertain the actual scoring of the works. I found the sound quality of a high standard and was especially impressed with the recording balance that the engineers had achieved.
 
Antiphonae, ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0029
This release featuring the 7 Great Advent Antiphons on the Polish Acte Préalable label was the first Łukaszewski disc that I heard. The recording also contains a setting of the Ave Maria and the composers first two settings of the Beatus Vir.
 
The 7 Great Advent Antiphons for mixed a-cappella chorus were composed over the period 1995-99. In the Catholic Church O Antiphons are sung over the seven days of the last week of Advent a period known as the ‘Octave before Christmas’ beginning 17th-23rd December. Each O Antiphon bears the title of one of Christ’s virtues as mentioned in the Scripture and each also refers to Isaiah’s prophecy for the coming of the Messiah.
 
On this recording of the 7 Antiphons each work is preceded by a short Gregorian chant. This scheme provides an interesting comparison between the contemporary music and established Gregorian chant. Each of the 7 Antiphons may be performed separately.
 
The first antiphon O Sapientia (O wisdom) is remarkable for its rapid moving, machine -like quality. In the antiphon O Adonai (O Adonai) the beautiful voices of the choir float up effortlessly to the clouds. There is a tranquil air of serenity in the antiphon O radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse) that switches swiftly to one of agitation and anxiety. The antiphon O clavis david (O Key of David) is a male-led score with wide extremes of emotional tension.
 
Dense choral textures dominate the noble and earnest antiphon O Oriens (O Morning Star) that noticeably divides into two sections; one slow and one fast. Varied and inventive writing is a feature of the antiphon O Rex Gentium (O King of the nations). Here I was struck by the exceptionally beautiful contemplative writing. O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel) is the seventh and concluding antiphon. A fast moving piece that I found evocative of a spinning quality of twisting and turning.
 
Łukaszewski has composed two settings of the Ave Maria the later score is the Ave maris stella (2003). Contained here is the first Ave Maria setting scored for SATB double chorus a-cappella. Completed in 1992 the Ave Maria was one of Łukaszewski’s first choral works and was written for the ATK choir in Warsaw who premièred the score in Paris in 1992. High voices tend to dominate this deeply devotional and melodic sound-world that Łukaszewski has expertly fashioned.
 
Łukaszewski has written eight settings of the Beatus Vir and contained here are the first two of the series scored for SATB mixed a cappella chorus.
 
The Beatus Vir, sanctus Adalbertus was composed in 1997 the year of the 1000th anniversary of the death of the martyr Saint Adalbert. The high spirited and rhythmic score was a commission by the author of the text Jerzy Wojtczak. It was premièred in December 1997 at Niepokalanów by the ATK Choir. The Beatus Vir, sanctus Martinus was the first to be written in 1996 and is dedicated to the composer’s brother Marcin. The light and uplifting score was premièred by the Cantica Cantamus Białystok Chamber Choir at Warsaw in May 1996.
 
For the Acte Prealable label Jan Łukaszewski conducts the Polish Chamber Choir - Schola Cantorum Gedanensis. This is a breathtaking performance of flawless harmony, crystal clear enunciation and glorious reverence. Recorded in 1999 at the St. Nicholas Church in Gdańsk the sound quality is of a high standard.
 
A splendid alternative recording of the 7 Antiphonae is the version by Stephen Layton directing the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. This sensitively performed and persuasive account was recorded in 2005 at Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge on Hyperion CDA67639 (c/w Beatus Vir, Two Lenten Motets, Ave Maria, Benedic, anima mea, Domino and Nunc dimittis) review.
 
Via Crucis, HYPERION CDA 67724
Hyperion have just released what I take to be the label’s second Łukaszewski disc. The Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross) was composed by Łukaszewski in 1999-2000 at Warsaw. The scoring of the Via Crucis is for countertenor (Evangelist), tenor (Pilate, Simon, Evangelist), baritone (Jesus), narrator, SATB chorus and orchestra. On this performance there are: 3 soloists, 1 speaker, a choir of 28 and the orchestra consists of 1 flutist, 1 oboist, 1 clarinettist, 1 bassoonist, 4 horns, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, a percussion group of 5 players, 12 violins, 4 violas, 3 cellos, 2 double bass and organ.
 
The marketing notes describe Łukaszewski’s Via Crucis as, “destined to become a modern classic in the vein of Taverner’s ‘The Veil of the Temple’ or Pärt’s ‘St John Passion’.” I have heard the John Taverner and the Arvo Pärt scores although I am especially familiar with Franz Liszt’s version of the Via Crucis for solo voices, chorus and organ (or piano), S53 (1876-78)A.
 
The Via Crucis is a remarkable devotional Roman Catholic work that describes Christ’s final hours, centred around his horrific journey carrying the Cross. Via Crucis (or Via Dolorosa) designates a section of road running between the Antonia fortress and Mount Calvary (or Golgotha). This is the route on which Jesus Christ was forced to travel, straining under the weight of the Cross, to his crucifixion at Calvary. The design of the score is the division into fourteen Stations of the Cross or (Way of the Cross) that represent the Passion of Christ. Catholic churches generally have pictures or tableaux of these scenes along the inside walls of the nave, usually seven on each side. The devotional group move ritually around the nave repetitively stopping at each station for mediations of prayers and singing. This devotional exercise is generally undertaken during Lent; principally on Good Friday and also on Lent Fridays.
 
With its spare employment of resources and limited use in the church calendar the Via Crucis is really a sacred work for the specialist listener to be played during Lent. Nevertheless Łukaszewski’s Via Crucis may prove to be a masterwork of the twenty-first century.
 
This Hyperion version of Łukaszewski’s Via Crucis provides fifteen Stations of the Cross; one station longer than the fourteen Stations normally set. This is an expression of the Roman Catholic Church’s more recent implementation of the ‘Tomb and Resurrection’ as a final fifteenth station. For the Via Crucis, as is traditional, Łukaszewski has employed in Latin, principally Biblical texts taken from the books of Luke, Isaiah, Matthew, John and Mark and also if I am not mistaken verses from Creeds of the Catholic Church. Łukaszewski’s Via Crucis concludes with a Christus Vincit a section of less than a minute.
 
Preceding each of Łukaszewski’s fifteen Stations of the Cross three male voices sing a short solemn and austere three-part refrain followed by a meltingly beautiful and reflective supplication Adoramus te (We adore you). In the body of each successive Station there is a section of narrative for three solo voices of different ranges complete with differing instrumental colour. There is the part of Christ for baritone accompanied by an alto flute, the Evangelist for countertenor with a bass clarinet, the part of Pilate for tenor supplemented by a contrabassoon, and a substantial role for a speaker.
 
At the conclusion of each Station there is a Qui passus es pro nobis (You who have died for us) for women’s voices and low strings. The tempo and dynamic of the writing alters for each of the Stations with a gradual increase in power and weight from the first to the last devotion. Between each of the Stations there is a bridge section for wind and strings based on a Polish melody. The bridge passages are intended, according to Łukaszewski, as a “reset function” serving a similar purpose to the Promenade sections in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
 
The role of Christ is sung by baritone Andrew Foster-Williams with a mellow and velvety timbre. Countertenor Iestyn Davies as the Evangelist conveys a controlled and youthful quality to his part. As Pilate tenor Allan Clayton performs with great credit, displaying a smooth tone and impressive enunciation. The choice of Roger Allam as the speaker is inspired. His pronunciation is vividly clear and he confidently communicates a mysterious often spine chilling foreboding to his narrative.
 
The vocal group Polyphony display impeccable ensemble. They can effortlessly shift from a tender, meditative beauty to powerful dramatic intensity; never losing sight of the extreme devotional nature of the sacred texts. This is refined and sensitive playing from the excellent Britten Sinfonia providing the finest support. The authoritative direction of Stephen Layton ensures a seamless blend of soloists, chorus and orchestral forces.
 
Recorded in 2008 at the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge with crystal clear and well balanced sound supplied by the Hyperion engineers. The essay in the booklet by Meurig Bowen is first class as is the overall presentation from Hyperion. I especially loved the splendid illustrations by Jerzy Duda-Gracz.
 
Łukaszewski is an important composer who over time will surely achieve worldwide acclaim. I am so grateful to have discovered these three Łukaszewski discs. The Via Crucis although a work for a specific feast in the Catholic church calendar may prove to be a masterwork of the twenty-first century.
 
Michael Cookson
 
Footnotes
 
MUSICA SACRA EDITION 013
List of performers:
Veni creator
Polish Chamber Choir ‘Schola Cantorum Gedanensis’/Jan Łukaszewski
 
Messa per voci e fiati
The Holst Singers, Studio Warszawa Ensemble/Stephen Layton
 
Organ Concerto
Wacław Golonka (organ), Concerto Avenna Ensemble/Andrzej Mysiński
 
Gaudium et Spes
Anna Mikołajczyk-Niewiedział (soprano), Orkiestra i Chór Filharmonii Podlaskiej/Piotr Borkowski
 
Symphony No.2 Festinemus amare homines
Agata Zubel-Moc (soprano), Katarzyna Trylnik (soprano), Anna Haas-Niewiedział (piano), Piotr Niewiedzial (piano), Chamber Choir of Poznan University, Classic Chamber Choir of Jelc University, Russia, Liturgical Choir of Leeds University, Astrolabium Chamber Choir of the Higher School of Banking in Torun, Daina Choir of Agriculture College in Kaunas, Lithunaia, Chamber Choir of the University of Padagogy in Moscow, Musica Mundana choir of the Wladyslaw Jagietto College in Lublin, Bartok Choir of Miskolc University, Symphony Orchestra of the Secondary Music School in Poznan, Chamber Orchestra of Poznan University/Łukasz Borowicz
 
English translation of the text provided by the composer to his Symphony No.2 Festinemus amare homines (Let's Hurry to love people) (Spieszmy się)
Words by Jan Twardowski
 
Let's Hurry to love people
Let's hurry to love people 'cause they leave so soon
Only their shoes and deaf phone remain
Only what is unimportant lingers like a cow
What's most important rushes so fast
Then normal so unbearable silence exists
Just like purity derived from despair
When we think about someone that we're left without
Don't be convinced that you still have time because it's not assured
And we loose our tenderness like good luck
That comes as both pathos and humour
Just like two passions are lesser than one
And hurriedly leave like a bird in July
Just like a sound not very accurate or a dry respect
To really see you need to close your eyes
Though it is a higher risk to be born than die
We still love too little and too late

Don't write about it too often but write once and for all
So you'll be like a dolphin gentle and strong

Let's hurry to love people 'cause they leave so soon
And those who do not leave not always return
And you never know when speaking of love
Whether first is the last one or last is the first.

 


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