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Mikołaj ZIELEŃSKI (fl. 1611)
Offertoria et Communiones Totius Anni, 1611
Anima nostra [03:20]
Ave Maria [04:32]
Video caelos apertos* [02:38]
Desiderium animae eius [03:42]
Deus firmavit [02:59]
Ego sum pastor bonus [02:55]
Elegerunt apostoli [03:19]
Inveni David [03:03]
Responsum accepit* [02:19]
Iustus ut palma florebit [02:32]
Laetentur caeli [03:04]
Confundantur superbi* [02:19]
Posuisti Domine [03:41]
Reges Tharsis [02:35]
Gustate et videte* [02:24]
Terra tremuit [03:37]
Principes persecuti sunt* [02:34]
Tui sunt caeli [03:10]
Emma Kirkby (soprano)*
Andrzej Białko (organ)

Capella Cracoviensis/Stanisław Gałoński
rec. 18-21 August 2008, St Mary of Fatima Church, Cracow, Poland. DDD
DUX 0681 [54:37] 


Experience Classicsonline

Outside Poland little is known about Polish music in the renaissance and baroque periods. Even in Poland itself hardly anything is known about Mikołaj Zieleński. The collection from which the pieces on this disc have been taken is his only extant music publication and only through this do we know that he was organist and director of music to Wojciech Baranowski, archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland from 1608. It is sometimes suggested he had been in Italy as his music is strongly influenced by the polychoral style of Giovanni Gabrieli - his collection of 1611 was printed in Venice, but there is no evidence of his ever having been in Italy.

It was the archbishop who made this publication possible, and it is to him that Zieleński dedicated his collection: "I began this work at your instigation; whilst in your service I finished it and it is thanks to your generosity and prodigality that I was able to be published". The archbishop was a music-lover. "During his stay in Italy, he learnt to sing prettily without going flat, something rare amongst clerics", Giovanni Paolo Mucante, Master of Ceremonies at the papal court, wrote. His court in Łowicz consisted of a vocal and instrumental ensemble, and he valued splendour in liturgical music. He wanted Zieleński to compose offertories in modern style which could be used as Propers during Mass. 

As already indicated Zieleński's music reflects the Venetian polychoral style. Although at the time his collection was published this style had been supplanted in Italy by the new concertato, the style of Gabrieli was still new to Poland, as Zieleński's dedication indicates: "Offertories and Communions composed for the first time by a Pole in the new style". His closeness to Gabrieli is underlined by the alternative title he gave to his music: 'sacrae symphoniae' - the same title Gabrieli used for his compositions. The two choirs are used in various ways, sometimes in imitation, sometimes in contrast. Especially important are the contrasting rhythms and the juxtaposition of polyphony and homophony, two ways of expressing the text and enhancing the dramatic character of his music. The two choirs have their own organ part, which is not a basso continuo as it is written as a four-part score. In this recording trombones are also used which in some pieces double the vocal lines. This is certainly correct, considering Zieleński's indebtedness to Gabrieli. 

The collection also contains some Communions for one voice and organ. These are not monodies like those being written at the time in Italy, for instance by Giulio Caccini. The solo part is rather like the top part of a polyphonic piece to which ornaments are added in the manner of the diminutions which were so popular in Italy in the second half of the 16th century. It seems Zieleński has notated these ornaments but I am pretty sure Emma Kirkby has added some of her own. This may be historically justified, sometimes it is a bit too much, and some are rather unnatural.

She never sings with the choir, and that is just as well as the singing of the choir is rather different from Ms Kirkby's. The main problem is that the choir with its 27 voices is too large and is just not flexible enough fully to realise the rhythmic shifts and to express the text. It is not easy to discover how Zieleński has translated the text into music, as the booklet doesn't contain the lyrics. The disposition of the choir is also less than ideal: there are eight sopranos and just four contraltos. The balance between the six tenors and the nine basses isn't much better. In the pieces for a high and a low choir the sopranos and the basses are too dominant. As an effect of the size of the choir the trombones are not as clearly audible as they should be. 

It is a shame this attempt to perform Zieleński's music hasn't turned out really well. I am not saying this is a bad recording: considering the size of the choir I am surprised how much of the character of Zieleński's music comes out. But with a smaller and more agile vocal ensemble and a greater variety of instruments - in particular cornetts and violins - the recording would have been much better. We have to wait for a really good recording, since Zieleński's music definitely deserves the attention. 

Those who are interested in Zieleński could look for another disc of his music; itís not ideal either but in general somewhat better. Fortunately only a couple of pieces appear on both discs. The performers are the Bornus Consort and the vocal and instrumental ensemble Linnamussikud de Tallin, directed by Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski. This recording was released in 1996 on the Accord label (202662). For this review I have used some information from the booklet of that disc.

Johan van Veen




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