Bartłomiej PĘKIEL (d.1670)
Missa Brevis [24.37]; Missa Pulcherrima [27.10]; Motets: Sub tuum praesidium [1.45]; Ave Maria [2.48]; Salvator orbis [2.43]; Magnum nomen domini [1.29]; Resonet in laudibus [1.26]
Il Canto/Michał Straszewski
rec. December 1996-January 1997, Grand Ballroom of Sapiecha Palace, Warsaw (Missa Brevis); September 2009, Stefan Cardinal Wyszyski University, Łomiaki. DDD
DUX 0726 [61.43]
Whilst listening to this CD you could be forgiven for thinking that the given date of death of Pękiel should read one hundred years earlier. What we hear is unaccompanied contrapuntal music in the ‘stile antico’ as it became known in the 17th Century.
The very useful booklet essay by Magdalena Łos-Komornicka lays considerable emphasis on the presence of the Royal Court of the Vasa dynasty in Warsaw where Pękiel worked in the 1630s. They were well up with contemporary musical styles from Italy, the ‘stile modern’ and were familiar with the works of Anerio and Marenzio. However after 1655 when the family was split apart by the Swedish invasion, Pękiel, now famous, moved to Kraków. This was in fact to the Cathedral of Wawel where the tradition of polyphonic singing in the old style had not died out. The composer clearly adapted to circumstance as the opening work here proves.
Funnily enough I realized that I had heard some of Pękiel’s music before, at a concert in Warsaw but I recall instrumental or certainly organ support on that occasion. These beautiful performances here are á capella.
The first tracks are devoted to a Missa Brevis - probably a late work. Oddly enough it is not all that ‘Brevis’. Normally there would be no Creed but here there is one; not only that but its length runs to almost that of the other sections put together. The only basis of the Mass seems to be a rhythmically gradually-rising figure noticeable throughout but especially during the wonderfully expressive ‘Agnus dei’. In fact Pękiel shines mostly in the reflective sections as in the central portions of the Creed and Gloria. Having said that there is some lively imitative writing in the Gloria and in the Creed’s long, lyrical and elegant A-men. The latter shows a composer of much contrapuntal skill. He merits the praise lavished on him at the time and indeed by the booklet author.
I was much taken with the Missa Pulcherrima the style of which should be thought of as mid-sixteenth century continental; in fact even more conservative than the Missa Brevis. It is for SATB. There is a memorable head motif which comprises a falling fifth and a rising fourth audible in each movement. The polyphony is masterful being often quite dense and imitative. The lines must be an absolute joy to sing especially in the top part. There is the usual word-painting in the Credo and Gloria -‘ascendit’ or ‘sepulcra est’. The title of the Mass seems to have been added by the copyist, a testament to how mellifluous he found the work to be. It is sung with much feeling and understanding. Only rarely does it lose its way in the more complex passages.
The CD ends with a group of five motets. The texts are only translated into Polish. Sub tuum praesidum asks the Virgin for “protection at the time of our need”. It is austerely polyphonic. Another, also to the Virgin, is a moving Ave Maria. The setting has some homophonic passages but the remaining Christmas motets Salvator orbis, Magnum nomen Domini and Resonet in laudibus are mostly in cheerful triple time and generally homophonic.
The chamber vocal ensemble Il Canto sing one to a part which is fine except that the Christmas motets need much more thrust and dynamism. They are not helped by too-close a recording which lacks atmosphere. The group is pictured within and as they were founded in 1984 and have, apparently, retained their personnel I assume that the sepia brown photo, the black and white one and the colour one are more or less of the same singers.
To sum up, there is some fine music here; so an interesting disc but probably one for the specialists. 

Gary Higginson 
Some fine music here; so an interesting disc but probably one for the specialists.