In the 1960s Wojciech Kilar belonged to a group of composers that started the Polish avant-garde music movement. The same group also included Henryk Gorecki and Krzysztof Penderecki. Since then he has moved towards a simpler, more melodic style and may be best known internationally for his many film music scores - well over one hundred - in cooperation with directors like Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola and Jane Campion. In parallel with this activity he has continuously devoted time to more traditional concert works. On this disc we find a cross-section of his choral music from roughly the last two decades. Apart from Veni Creator
all the works here are for a cappella
In Hymn Paschalny
he goes back to the oldest tradition of prayer in Church history. The tonal language is melodious and repetitive and reminiscent of Gorecki. It is tempting to label it minimalist, a term to which Kilar strongly objects. ‘The universally accepted equation “repetitive music = minimalist music” is totally incomprehensible to me. It is proof of an extraordinary thoughtlessness, considering that there also exists the long-popular slogan (Reminding one, incidentally, of an advert for washing powder): “minimum devices = maximum expression”. I would rather suggest the following equation: “repetitive music = maximum music.”’ Hymn Paschalny
is sung in terrace dynamics – there are few shades in between but it ends on repeated calls of ‘Hallelujah’ in a riveting crescendo. This is mighty music – Kilar’s own words ‘maximum music’.
(2003) also goes back to old liturgical music and texts. Says Kilar: ‘The height of music and its crowning glory is Gregorian chant, music sung by medieval monks, particularly in monodic style, before the introduction of accompanying instruments. This is music that we have been given in a natural way.’ The composition is permeated by restrained intensity. There is nothing flashy or opportunistic about this. One feels that it comes from within. Towards the end the music rises in waves of almost ecstatic beauty, only to sink back to near silence.
The short Dona nobis pacem
from a longer mass was Kilar’s first strictly religious work and it has been performed in church settings including the Vatican in the presence of Pope John Paul II. This straight-forward and immediately appealing piece should become a choral classic!
from a film soundtrack seems more intent upon creating a sacred atmosphere which is the function of a lot of film music. Having gone back to this particular piece several times I found that it grows on you. This without being as distinctive as the other works on the disc. Apotheosis
– another piece for the silver screen - is more outgoing and ‘catchy’.
for mixed choir and string orchestra was written after the death of the composer’s wife. The text is an invocation to the Holy Spirit. It was first performed at the World Expo Exhibition in Saragossa in 2008 and later the same year saw its first Polish performance in Katowice. On both occasions it was the forces on this disc that were the performers. Very satisfied with the result Kilar later asked Anna Szostak to take up some other works by him and this ended up in the present disc coming into being. Veni Creator
is full of contrasts but with a unifying recurrent theme. The choral parts are inward and harmonically restrained while the orchestral writing is drastically sprinkled with harsher harmonies and dark sounds. The effect is strongly evocative and gripping. This, like all the other works here, is music to return to repeatedly. There is a lot of truth in Kilar’s equation: repetitive music = maximum music!
The singing and playing on this disc is beyond reproach and the recorded sound is excellent. There are in-depth comments on the music and biographical notes. My only regret is that the sung texts are not printed in the booklet.
For lovers of choral music this disc is an important addition to the repertoire and even those who normally fight shy of contemporary music should give the disc a listen. It may radically change your opinions – even your lives!