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Words Painted with Sounds
Jan Antoni WICHROWSKI (b. 1942)
Elegy for a Polish Boy [8:44]
Jósef Ś WIDER (b. 1930)
Prayer to the Mother of God [2:22]
Lullaby [1:59]
Dance [3:28]
Song about Happiness [2:01]
My Song [2:47]
Over the Grave of Julia Capuletti [2:28]
The Seasons [1:16]
Autumn [2:33]
I Like It When at the End of Day [2:40]
Four Sonnets to words by Leopold Staff [7:07]
Who Looks For You [2:05]
Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Tears Have Flown [2:11]
By the Wide Water [2:24]
The Piper’s Song [3:10]
So Much [2:55]
Sophie [1:20]
NFM Wrocław Philharmonic Choir/Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny
rec. 11-12 December 2010, Jan Kaczmarek Concert Hall, Wrocław, Poland
CD ACCORD ACD169-2 [53:26]

The title of this disc is a clue to its aim. In the booklet essay, the conductor explains that she wanted to draw attention as much to the riches of Polish poetry - written “in different times and styles” - as to the music of “contemporary Polish composers”. Readers will note that Paderewski, at least, can scarcely be numbered among the contemporary. Thus the two elements are of equal importance in this collection.
Jan Antoni Wichrowski’s Elegy for a Polish Boy is a setting of three wartime poems by Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński. The central panel gives the work its title, and is a mother’s poignant song of mourning for her son killed in battle. The music of all three songs is completely tonal and accessible, but sincere and affecting.
The same poet’s texts are used by Jósef Świder for four of the songs on this disc. Lullaby - even as she fears for the future, a mother sings her baby to sleep - is particularly affecting, but there is livelier music in Dance and Song about Happiness. The musical language is no more challenging than that of Wichrowski, but this music is far removed from the austere mysticism of Arvo Pärt, for example, and still further from the oversweet excesses of Eric Whitacre. In its place there is a simplicity that seems to have its roots in folk music, and whose aim is communication and straightforward pleasure, both for the listener and, perhaps just as much so, for the performers. Those who might think that music as tonal as this, in 2013, can only be limited in its emotional or expressive capacity are encouraged to listen to Świder’s The Seasons. Here, in the space of little more than a minute, and with a highly developed musical imagination, the composer expresses a wealth of feeling and atmosphere just in the music he finds to announce the name of each of the four seasons of the year. Listen, too, to the beginning of I Like It When at the End of Day, where with skilful and imaginative use of diatonic dissonance he manages to evoke at once the quiet of dusk and, most subtly, the distant ringing of church bells. These are settings of poems by Leopold Staff, whose powerfully religious texts sometimes seem to be leading us towards pantheism. Świder’s settings of four of his sonnets are serious and passionate, and contain, so the accompanying notes inform us, quotations for Christmas and Lenten hymns.
Choral conductor and teacher Zofia Urbanyi-Krasnodębska is represented by a single work. Her music skilfully differentiates between the romantic dreaming of the poet as he gazes on Juliet’s grave and the harsh reality that dictates that “these are ... merely stones”.
Recent incumbents of the post of British Prime Minister, once out of the way, have tended to produce doorstep-sized books that fill the shelves of remainder shops. Apart from this, they will not be remembered primarily for their contribution to British cultural life. Admittedly, Ignacy Jan Paderewski was Prime Minister of Poland for less than a year, but when one reads about his life, one wonders how he managed to squeeze so much into the time left over after his activities as a piano virtuoso and composer. There is no hidden masterpiece here, but it is real music, all the same. The Piper’s Song, for example, remains light-hearted even as it catches the slight hint of melancholy in the poem, and the fickle Sophie is well evoked in the final song. Overall, however, his response to the poetry is more generalised than that of his compatriots on this disc, with less attention to the detail of the text. The five songs recorded here were all originally composed for voice and piano, but are given in mixed choir arrangements by Adam Mickiewicz. He has done his work with great skill, with considerable use of wordless accompanying figures that give his arrangements something of a Baltic flavour. They are highly attractive.
The booklet has been well prepared, with all the sung texts in addition to the conductor’s informative essay, in Polish and in readable translations, plus quite a few fetching photographs. This is the Wrocław Philharmonic Choir’s first “solo” recording. They have been superbly prepared by Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny, and I’m looking forward to hearing them in more technically challenging repertoire. The recording is excellent. This disc will have a strong pull on those on the lookout for something just a bit unusual, superbly sung, relatively easy on the ear but ultimately most enjoyable and satisfying.
William Hedley