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Romuald TWARDOWSKI (b. 1930)
Exegi monumentum
(2009) [25.49] (1)
Three Frescoes for Orchestra (1986) [14.40] (2)
Ioannes Rex (1983) [20.32] (3)
Anna Mikoljczyk-Niewiedzial (soprano) (1); Jarosslaw Brek (bass) (1); Andrzeu Hiolski (baritone) (3); International University Choir, International Symphony Orchestra/Marcin Nalecz-Niesiolowski (1); Festival Symphony Orchestra, Odessa/Boris Rosenfeld (2); Zielona Gora Philharmonic Orchestra/Szymon Kawalla
rec. Poznan, 20 June 2009 (1); Odessa, 18 May 2001 (2); Zielona Gora, 25-26 June 1982 (3)
ACTE PREALABLE AP0231 [61.05]

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I am rather puzzled about the lack of exposure that Romuald Twardowski’s music has in the UK. Twardowski trained in Vilnius and Warsaw before continuing studies with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He returned to Poland in the late 1960s and has been based there ever since. The Polish label Acte Préalable has a continuing series of CDs of Twardowski’s music and this one contains three substantial works. The most recent on the disc, Exegi monumentum, dates from 2009 and the other two are from the 1980s. The disc thus gives a good overview of Twardowski’s fairly recent orchestral/choral activity.
 
Exegi monumentum sets a Latin text by Quintus Horatius Flaccus. The text starts with ‘I have raised a monument, more durable than bronze’ and in it Flaccus rather praises himself for his poetry which will outlive him and provide everlasting fame. Twardowski sets the work for chorus and orchestra with roles for solo bass and solo soprano. The musical language has an austere grandeur whose neo-classicism reminds me a bit of Stravinsky. Other musical echoes include the Vaughan Williams of Dona Nobis Pacem. But Twardowski also introduces his own personal language including a shimmering aleatoric background to the fifth movement of Exegi monumentum, though it is actually based on a tonal ground. He also has a nice ear for orchestra and choral colour, and introduces unexpected elements such as the use of tom-toms.
 
The piece opens with in wonderfully massive, almost rugged style for chorus and orchestra. The choral writing is often homophonic which adds to the movement’s substantial feel. This is followed by a solo for the bass, Jaroslaw Brek. Brek’s voice is recorded rather closely, but he brings an austere beauty to the table. The following choral contribution is the one where I found echoes of RVW’s Dona Nobis Pacem, but with a language which is harder and tougher. The soprano’s lyrical solo follows, admirably sung by Anna Mikolajczyk-Niewiedzial. All the forces then come together for the radiant conclusion.
 
This is an impressive work. Not loveable perhaps, but one which captures the monumental grandeur of Flaccus’s verses. The recording was made live at the work’s premiere in Poznan in June 2009, so there are occasional slips in the orchestra and the sound is not ideal. But the performance was a wonderful immediacy and a vibrancy that comes from hearing the live premiere, admirably conducted by Marcin Nalecz-Niesiolowski.
 
Twardowski’s Three Frescoes for Orchestra date from 1986 and this recording was made live in Odessa in 2001. The work reflects Twardowski’s interest in the Eastern Orthodox Church; though a Roman Catholic he has written a substantial body of choral music for the Orthodox Church. Here, each movement reflects a fresco in an Orthodox Church. The first movement, Christos Pantokrator on Mount Athos, is hieratically written, reflecting the features of the Greek church, with different groups of instruments either further forward or in the background. The result celebrates stillness, but in a highly dramatic manner. In the second movement, Holy Trinity According to Rublov, bells dominate, along with separate choirs of wind and of strings. Finally The Prophet Elijah on the Chariot of Fire is full of the whirling of fire images and makes a suitably dramatic end. The Festival Symphony Orchestra in Odessa, under Boris Rosenfeld makes a good stab at the work. Like the Exegi monumentum the vibrancy of the live performance generally makes up for the slips. It would be nice to think that this disc would give someone the idea of doing a studio recording of this fascinating work.
 
The final work on the disc is another choral/orchestra setting of a Latin text, but this time the text was written in 1983. Rex Ioannes celebrates the victory of King John Sobieski and was written to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the victory. The text was written by Latin scholar Jan Wecowski. The result is a highly dramatic piece for choir, orchestra with baritone solo. Like Exegi monumentum the spirits of RVW and Stravinsky hover over the piece along with the Orff of his later, tougher pieces; in fact the sound-world and harmony of the work have a hard and robust quality which reflects the dramatic subject matter. The choir has its off moments, but again the piece was recorded live at the work’s premiere.
 
The CD booklet contains the texts, in Latin, English and Polish, along with information about Twardowski and the music. This is in rather unidiomatic English.
 
The disc presents a varied trio of Twardowski’s works and enables the interested listener to explore his sound-world. None of the three recordings are quite ideal, but the two choral works are presented in recordings of their premieres and this imparts a vibrancy and edge to the performances. Highly recommended for anyone interested in exploring dramatically interesting late 20th century tonal music.
 
Robert Hugill
 
 


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