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Mikolaj ZIELENSKI (17th Century)
Offertoria et Communiones Totius Anni (1611)
Anima nostra [3:20]
Ave Maria [4:32]
Video caelos apertos* [2:38]
Desiderium animae eius [3:42]
Deus firmavit [2:59]
Ego sum pastor bonus [2:55]
Elegerunt apostoli [3:19]
Inveni David [3:03]
Responsum accepit* [2:19]
Iustus ut palma florebit [2:32]
Laetentur caeli [3:04]
Confundantur superbi* [2:19]
Posuisti Domine [3:41]
Reges Tharsis [2:35]
Gustate et videte* [2:24]
Terra tremuit [3:37]
Principes persecuti sunt* [2:34]
Tui sunt caeli [3:10]
Emma Kirkby (soprano)*
Andrzej Bialko (organ)
Capella Cracoviensis/Stanislaw Galonski
rec. 18-21 August 2008, St. Mary of Fatima Church, Cracow
DUX 0681 [54.37] 

Experience Classicsonline

Mikolaj Zielenski published only two volumes of music, Offetoria Totius Anni and Communiones Totius Anni; both were published in Venice in 1611. They were dedicated to, and paid for by, Wojclech Baranowski, the Primate of Poland. The only other documents that we have for Zielenski are records of a court case, also dating from 1611, which seem to indicate that he was from burgher stock and had been granted an alderman's estate. The court records also refer to him as the organist of the Primate of Poland's ensemble. He is also referred to as holding a similar title in the Venetian publications of his music. Given that he was associated with the Primate of Poland's establishment, it is puzzling as to why his only major publication was issued in Venice. He might have studied in Italy, at least the historian and biographer Szymon Starowolski, writing in 1627, said that Zielenski studied in Rome. 

There seems to be no other surviving music. That the Primate's Palace in Lowicz was demolished by the Swedes during the wars with Sweden may be the reason that we have no other manuscripts. 

There are 56 Offertoria and a 12-voice Magnificat in Offetoria Totius Anni and 60 Communion motets in the other volume. The Offertoria are 7 and 8 voice motets, written in polychoral style with organ accompaniement. The texts are in chronological order of the liturgical year, with just Advent missing. 

Recorded here are a selection of the Offertoria and Communiones, the former all polychoral motets sung by the Polish group Capella Cracoviensis, the latter all monodies with organ accompaniment sung by Emma Kirkby. Capella Cracoviensis are a choir of some 21 singers, established in the 1970s by their conductor Stanislaw Galonski. 

In the Offertoria Zielenski wrote mainly homophonically, but with a nice ear for antiphonal effects. All of the motets seem to use multiple choirs to provide shifts in colour and texture. Zielenski adds in just enough part movement to keep the music interesting, but it is the varying of vocal colouration that seems to have interested him most. The choir is recorded in quite a lively acoustic, but make a strong, direct sound and seem to appreciate this muscular music. If these motets were written for the Primate's chapel, as we must assume they were, then the musical establishment must have been of a pretty high order. 

The contrast with the solo Communion motets is so alarming as to make you wonder whether they were written by the same composer. Here expressive monody is enlivened by fast passagework of such extreme brilliance as to make even Emma Kirkby pause. These are wonderfully striking pieces and must originally have been written for a very talented performer. If Kirkby does not quite make light of the trickiest passages, she brings her familiar intelligence to the music and makes one long to here more of it. 

This disc enables us to hear the music of a remarkable 17th century Polish composer who deserves to be better known. It would be possible to imagine other groups giving performances that were more carefully modulated. But Capella Cracoviensis sing with lively charm and are complemented by Emma Kirkby's dazzling passagework. This is a disc that all lovers of 17th century choral music will want to have.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Johan van Veen



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