Andrzej SIEWIŃSKI (d. pre-1726)
Requiem (1726?), including Canticles and Gregorian Chant
Adam Myrczek (narrator); Camerata Silesia Singers; Early Music Ensemble Parnassos/Anna Szostak
rec. 14-18 June 2011, Basilica of Our Lady, Rychwaldzie
Detailed track list at end of review
DUX 0859 [51:29] 

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 atmosphere.
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 being performed?
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 

Serious reservations but much here is attractive. 


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]
Sanctus [5.56]
Agnus Dei [1.38]
Communio Lux aeterna (Gregorian chant) [1.18]
Salve Regina (Anonymous, Sandomierz 1750) [2.06]