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POLISH SONGS
Tadeusz BAIRD (1928-1981)
Trouveurs’ Songs (1963) 1 [9.55]
Zygmunt KRAUZE (b.1938) Malay Pantuns (1961) 2 [6.29]
Joanna BRUZDOWICZ (b. 1943) Harbour drawings (1967) 3 [7.44]
Juliusz LUCIUK (b. 1938) Lyrical portraits (1974) 4 [18.34]
Liliana Górska (mezzo), Dorota Dabrowska123, Anna Gadzinska12 and Alexandra Pyrcz2 (flutes), Mariusz Mruczek1 and Krzystof Koziatek4 (cellos), Anna Mikolon3 and Marcin Kucharzewski4 (pianos), Piotr Sutt3 (percussion), Artur Milan4 and Anna Mrachez4 (violins), Szymon Morus2 and Katazyna Bojuraniec4 (conductors)
rec. Studio Nagran, Academy of Music, Gdansk, 2011
ACTE PRÉALABLE APO 274 [42.51]


 
On the back of the box, and in the booklet, Acte Préalable proclaims itself as the “leading label promoting Polish music and musicians.” This disc is also “funded by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education for statutory activities of the Academy of Music in Gdansk.” However, it must be said that as a work of promotion it leaves much to be desired.
 
The four works contained on this disc are all cycles of songs, one with texts in mediaeval French and Spanish, one with texts in Malay, one with texts in Spanish translated into Polish, and one with texts by Polish poets. At no point are we given any translations into English, or indeed any other mainstream European language. The booklet contains an exculpatory note regarding this: “The translation of all lyrics was impossible due to constraints of intellectual property rights.” Now, I cannot begin to imagine how mediaeval troubadour songs can possibly still be in copyright after five hundred years. Nor can I understand why the original publishers should have refused to allow translations of the poems which presumably would have done nothing to damage the reputation of the original authors. I am aware that sometimes agents will sell exclusive translation rights to foreign publishers, but any problems regarding royalties should be overcome and not used as an excuse to simply fail to provide texts altogether. In the case of some of these songs, closely linked to the words they set, this failure renders the music practically meaningless. At the very least one would have hoped that the booklet notes - by the singer herself - would say something to tell us what the poems were actually about; but this they fail to do. Black marks all round.
 
This is all the more annoying, because some of the pieces here sound extremely interesting. They comprise the work of four composers of what I suppose we could call the ‘Penderecki generation’, when Polish music was beginning to free itself from the constraints of ‘socialist realism’ which had been imposed after 1945. None of the composers here is as experimental as Penderecki – at least as far as one can judge from the music here, written between 1961 and 1974 – but all make a good impression.
 
Tadeusz Baird is described in the booklet as “the master of archaization” and his Trouveurs’ Songs, setting mediaeval troubadour lyrics, have a decidedly modal air which nevertheless remains firmly rooted in the twentieth century. One might detect a slight influence of Orff’s similar techniques in parts of Carmina Burana, but the results are delectable and often very beautiful indeed. One oddity: the booklet twice describes the work as for “contralto and mezzo-soprano” but I can only detect one voice, only one singer is credited, and I suspect “and” is a misprint for “or”. The three songs are nicely contrasted, with a lively middle movement sandwiched between two more reflective texts, the final one a hymn to the “glorious King”, I think. The work was originally written for a ballet, and it is certainly the most approachable music on this disc.
 
The texts of the three songs by Zygmunt Krause are in Malay, I presume, and the booklet tells us that they reflect the composer’s encounter with “Streminsky’s theory of Unism.” It goes on to define this philosophy as “general uniformity in the spacial plan of the composition, objectlessness and lack of contrasts.” I am not quite sure what this is supposed to mean, but the composer stated that his “main aim was to translate Streminsky’s theory into sound.” Well, there is certainly a sense of uniformity, and the words - if one could understand them at all - don’t seem to have much relevance to the music, which I suppose could be defined as “objectlessness”. The work as a whole is strangely unsatisfying.
 
Joanna Bruzdowicz is more obviously modernistic in approach, but here again the lack of translations of the texts is a serious drawback. The booklet tells us that “at first glance the poems seem to be simple, yet their true meaning is hidden under layers of ambiguity and polysemantic content.” Well, one will have to take Górska’s word for this, because she doesn’t explain further. The songs are sung in Polish, but we are here also given the original Spanish texts, although my rudimentary command of the latter language does not help me to decipher any more cryptic meanings. I did manage to find an online translation of the third, and shortest, of the songs.
 
In the final set of songs by Juliusz Luciuk the lack of translations is particularly serious, because Górska tells us that “each part creates a separate musical dimension and an idiosyncratic scenery of feelings and sensations, explicitly reflecting its content and poetic significance.” We can indeed hear this in the music, clearly striving for a close engagement with the words; but insofar as understanding what it all means, we are left entirely in the dark. These songs strike me as being potentially the most interesting music on this disc, but a listener who speaks no Polish at all is left without any guidance or assistance whatsoever.
 
This is all a great shame, because the performances themselves are excellent. Liliana Górska is a superbly resonant singer and her various accompanying forces all play with great skill and even - dare one say it? - charm. I cannot imagine indeed that these performances could be bettered. One is just left lamenting the presentation. It is not even clear precisely which players are involved with each track – the heading given to this review involved a certain amount of guesswork. The fact that one cannot appreciate the intelligent interpretation of the texts which Górska is clearly furnishing does not help. Oh, and the disc is pretty short measure; one would have welcomed the opportunity to hear more music by Baird and Luciuk in particular.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey

Comment received:

I read Paul Corfield Godfrey's review with great interest, mainly because I am interested in the music of Baird. It is a pity modern CD producers (LPs and older CDs were invariably more communicative in my senescent memory!) can't get their act together with texts, titles etc. I say titles, because the title "Trouveur's Songs" is clearly wrong and must be the result of a clumsy inter-linguistic muddle. On the culture.pl resource library the title is clearly and unmistakably given, as I had suspected from the review, as Troubadours' Songs for alto voice (or mezzo-soprano), two flutes and cello (1963). Trouveres, not trouveurs, were French poet-singers, troubadours were from the land of langue d'oc, and "reis glorios" is a very famous surviving song by the troubadour Giraut de Bornelh, mentioned by Dante. There are various online translations. Baird is an interesting and rewarding composer; the Olympia CD with a selection of his music is very worthwhile, though probably difficult to find, and includes the Shakespeare sonnets very justly praised by the above-mentioned site as "the moving, beautiful 4 Love Sonnets to Words by William Shakespeare for baritone and orchestra, written in 1956. There is little or no other music today that is as deeply lyrical, strangely expressive, and ultimately so intensely subjective." I would add that the latter, but certainly not all of Baird's music, is in the "archaicizing" vein - some is just as modernist as other Polish composers of the 60s and 70s.
Martin Walker

Martin Walker is correct in stating that the songs by Baird are usually titled 'Troubadours' Songs' but I adopted the translation given in the booklet. I agree that the music of Baird is unfairly neglected and apart from the very lovely Love Sonnets there is also a charming suite for flute and strings entitled Colas Breugnon, which has been available in a number of different recordings. And although some of the music is indeed modern in style, it always has an emotional undertow. The Olympia CD is indeed a rarity, but there was a two-disc set which included transfers of many of the same recordings available some time ago (it can still be found on Spotify, although like so many other Baird recordings it has succumbed to the deletions axe).
Paul Corfield Godfrey

I would like also to give some kind of answer regarding the review of AP0274 - Liliana Górska.
It is normal practice that the mains labels do not publish the lyrics at all. The recent example - Naxos and Symphony no. 8 by Weinberg. The only available version is in Polish - definitely not mainstream European language - on Naxos web site.
When I decided to publish the AP0274, I have a problem with the lyrics.
- Baird's work is sing in old French - public domain
- Krauze's work is sing in Malay - I do not know if it is protected, and I do not find any Polish translation
- Bruzdowicz's work is sing in Polish, the original was written in Spanish - I believe this language is mainstream European language - poetry and the translation to Polish are protected.
- Luciuk's work is sing in Polish - poetry is protected (4 authors)
1. I believe that if I do the translation, I should do it for all this works.
2. For Baird - How to find somebody who will translate from old French to (old) English?
3. For Krauze - How to find somebody who will translate from Malay to English.
4. For Brudzowicz - should I translate from Polish or Spanish version?
5. To translate Bruzdowicz or Luciuk works, I should find the heir of all author and ask them the permission to translate. Only when I will receive it, I can publish the English version.
6. How to find the heirs of the authors?
After considering all these points I decided that we have to publish the CD with what we have in the hand. The cost of all procedures (2 to 6) will be very high and not sure that I will get in touch with all heirs and will get the approval from them. Also I was not sure how long all this will take.
If famous label as Naxos can ignore the lyrics, why should I care about it? In recently released CD - AP0260 - Maria Szymanowska - we publish the lyrics in 3 (and some in 4) languages but it was easy to do because all alnguages were easy to translate and alll were public domain. In the case of Liliana Gorska it was too hard, to troublesome.

Sorry for my English, I hope you can understand my explanation.

Best regards,

Jan Jarnicki - ACTE PRÉALABLE

I do not accept that it is 'normal practice' not to publish texts and translations, although it is regrettably not uncommon either. However many of the issues which do not publish such information will make texts and translations available for download from a website (Naxos, for example, are generally punctilious about this) and this is acceptable as a compromise. That is however not the case with this release.


Regarding the individual points raised by Jan Jarnicki:

Baird The texts in mediaeval French are clearly out of copyright, and could have therefore have been translated. To state, as the booklet does, that such translation "was impossible due to the contraints of intellectual property rights" is therefore not entirely true in this case.
Krauze Given that the composer would have recognised that the Malay words would not be understood by Polish performers, I find it hard to credit that he himself did not provide translations in the score as a guide to meaning for the benefit of singers.
Bruzdowicz A translation from the original Spanish would have been quite acceptable if the Polish translation rights were protected.
Luciuk The estates concerned could presumably have been contacted, and I cannot imagine that translation rights would have been refused - they would after all serve to publicise the works of four poets almost entirely unknown outside Poland.


Failing the provision of translations, it should surely have been possible to publish in the booklet some guidance as to what the poems are about. There are none, although Liliana Górska does emphasise the importance of the words. Was she aware, when she wrote her otherwise comprehensive and admirable notes, that translations were not going to be provided?


There is a very good reason why the publishers of this release should 'care about it.' As I have noted Liliana Górska observes in her booklet notes that the composers of these songs paid particular attention to reflecting the meaning of the words in their settings - as indeed one might expect - and if a listener is unable to follow this a good proportion of their appreciation of the music itself is inevitably going to be lost. The object of this CD is stated as being the promotion of Polish music, and failure to provide translations undermines this - which is a pity, as the music and the performances are very good.

Paul Corfield Godfrey


 


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