I am always excited at the prospect of discovering the music
of a composer I know nothing about, so I was pleased to receive
this CD for review. Yet I was immediately frustrated when I
opened the case, only to discover extensive liner-notes, including
biographical information on all the performers, that were only
in Polish. Surely any recording that features music by a completely
unknown composer should include notes in multiple languages?
A Google search for “Andrzej Siewiński” yielded
only a few results, though I did locate a helpfully informative
press release, in English, for this CD. It begins by describing
how the “notion of death and its manifestation through
art is an important element of Old Polish culture”. Evidently,
a funeral mass in Poland was an important musical event.
This CD offers a reconstruction of a funeral liturgy, circa
the mid-18th century. The music includes Gregorian
chant, two anonymous motets - both taken from a collection of
Psalms and Motets of the Benedictine Nuns in Sandomierz - and
a Requiem Mass by Andrzej Siewiński, about whom little
is known. According to Grove Music Online, Siewiński “is
known only by his works in manuscript at the ecclesiastical
seminary in Sandomierz. They are in the concertato motet style
with florid vocal parts.” His Missa pro defunctis
was written for four voices, two oboes, strings and organ, and
is dated 1726.
The opening work, Media vita, is a short and simple motet
that moves easily between polyphonic and homophonic textures.
It is well sung by the Camerata Silesia, a chamber-sized choir
that produces a clear, light tone that occasionally becomes
top heavy. The intonation and diction is admirable. Their performance
is touching and immediately establishes an appropriately solemn
Siewiński’s Requiem does indeed display florid
vocal parts, as well as a reliance on call-and-response, sequential
harmonies and repetitive patterns. The music is also sectionalized:
Siewiński creates one musical idea for a short passage
of text, arrives at a strong cadence, and then uses new music
for the next passage. Musical ideas are never really developed,
just presented and then put away. The music makes for pleasant
listening, yet the text setting is not particularly descriptive
or dramatic. Anyone searching for the dramatic textual acuity
of Eybler or Michael Haydn, let alone Mozart or Cherubini, will
be disappointed. Instead, this is pretty music that creates
and maintains a mood of quiet reflection. That is not to say
that it is boring. It’s main interest, however, lies in
the ever-changing timbres and textures, which here receive the
strongest advocacy from both orchestra and choir.
Frustratingly, the recording also includes a sermon that lasts
8.44, a substantial portion of what is an already short disc.
The press release notes that the funeral sermons were often
hours long, and were considered an essential element to the
funeral liturgy. Rich families often had the sermon published
at their expense and what we have here is an excerpt of one
such sermon, preached on 24 March 1624. Perhaps this would prove
interesting to a Polish listener, but I found it irritating
to have so much spoken word included on a music CD. Why choose
a sermon preached roughly a century before the music that is
The Gregorian chant is beautifully performed, with a variety
of performing styles: call-and-response, sung in unison, then
in octaves with some impressively low bass notes. Interestingly,
the chant is metered, instead of being allowed to ebb and flow
with the rhythm of the words. I cannot recall ever hearing Gregorian
Chant performed this way, and I would love to know the guiding
rationale. Was this the traditional style in Poland at the time?
The final track, a three-part Salve Regina is the most
beautiful music on the entire CD. Traditionally used when the
coffin with the body was lowered into the grave, the antiphon
is performed with breath-taking beauty by the choir.
So we have a CD with interesting performances of chant, beautiful
works by anonymous composers and a Requiem that, while not a
major discovery, makes for agreeable listening. Everything is
performed by excellent musicians. Yet there is thirty minutes
of unused space on the CD - forty if the Sermon had not been
included - and no notes or translations.
Should you want more information on the reconstruction, and
the performers, please see this link.
Serious reservations then but much that is here is attractive.
David A. McConnell
Media vita (Anonymous, from book of Psalms and Canticles,
Benedictine Nuns from Sandomierz, 1721) [3.03]
Requiem - Kyrie [5.15]
Graduale Requiem (Gregorian chant) [4.08]
Tractus Absolve (Gregorian chant) [3.08]
Dies irae [11.44]
Kazanie pogrzebne / Funeral sermon (1626, fragment) [8.44]
Domine Jesu [4.28]
Agnus Dei [1.38]
Communio Lux aeterna (Gregorian chant) [1.18]
Salve Regina (Anonymous, Sandomierz 1750) [2.06]