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Virgo Prudentissima - Adoration of the Virgin at the Polish Court
Track listing below review
Weser-Renaissance Bremen/Manfred Cordes
rec. 20-22 January 2012, Peterskirche, Kempen, Germany
CPO 777 772-2 [69.20]

Now, as then, Poland is a deeply religious country. I remember walking the lovely streets of old Warsaw over the ancient bridge and finding, whilst in the early evening, church after church often quite full of worshippers at mass or simply sitting quietly in prayer. As in ancient times, the Virgin Mary is still venerated with statues and paintings.

The music being explored on this CD was that to be heard in the Polish court of King Sigismund III (d.1632) who moved between Warsaw and that other great and beautiful city, Krakow. It was he who decided to invigorate the religious, cultural and courtly life by introducing new musicians from Italy and mixing them with indigenous ones under the direction of Bartlomiej Pekiel. If you want to hear music by Pekiel then turn to a disc recorded by the Sixteen on Coro 16110. There are also two CDs on the Polish Dux label (review review).

The composers represented above will be unknown to most people outside Poland but their musical language is international for the period. Monteverdi and Stradella may be brought to mind as well as older composers like Giovanni Gabrieli. These performances are an absolute delight and capture the style and communicate the feeling behind the music perfectly. It's not music of the first division but it's worth the trouble of reviving and certainly of hearing at least several times.

Marcin Mielczewski is represented by ten vocal works. The opening Virgo prudentissima in thirteen parts, which gives the CD its name (“Virgin most prudent whither do you go/shining so brightly in the rosy dawn”) is for double choir. His Magnificat uses plainchant as its starting point and is more archaic. Even more old-fashioned in the ‘stile antico’ style is the freely polyphonic Gaude Dei Gentrix. His works seem to have circulated throughout Europe but were probably unknown in England.

Adam Jarzebski is represented by seven instrumental compositions. In 1615 he went to study in Italy and on his return to Poland was an instrumentalist in the Royal ensemble. His “Chromatica” is a Canzona in all but name for strings alone and begins with a Biberesque, brief fanfare going into triple time with echo effects. It then slips into the minor key with chromatic lines in all parts just for its middle section before returning to its earlier ideas forming an ABCBA pattern. The other works are in the Italianate Canzona and concerto forms and the piece called “Königsberga” features just the Posaune and Dulzian with continuo.

Mikolaj Zielenski was not directly connected with the Royal household but is in many ways the most interesting of the three. He is allotted five compositions. Two contrasting ones, side by side, are the rather sombre, Schütz-like Ave Maria in seven parts and the more Italianate Felix namque in eight. The last track is a dance-inflected setting of Assumpta es Maria in alternating rhythms. It is also in eight parts reminding us that the Virgin Mary’s last act on earth was to be assumed into heaven.

For this recording Weser-Renaissance Bremen consists of eight voices with just one bass. There are also ten instrumentalists consisting of four string players and a small organ, a theorbo and five wind instruments. The distribution across the CD is such as to give constant variety of texture from track to track. At times we hear soloists with the ensembles in Salve Virgo by Mielczewski and sometimes the full vocal ensemble as in Beata es Maria by Zielenski. Instrumental items divide up the vocal ones. Manfred Cordes does not interpose himself between the listener and the music.

The booklet essay by Marcin Szelest goes into appropriate detail about the composers and the works and texts are supplied and well translated. The acoustic of the ancient church in Kempen is ideal.

Rare music then, beautifully sung and even more beautifully played. Well worth investigating.

Gary Higginson

Track listing
Marcin MIELCZEWSKI (d.1651)
Virgo prudentissima a 13 [4.56]
Quem terra pontus a 12 [4.55]
Beata Dei Gentrix a 8 [3.21]
Salve Virgo a 6 [4.49]
Magnificatprimi toni a 12 [6.49]
Adam JARZEBSKI (d.1649)
Concerto I a 2 [3.10]
Concerto II a 2 [3.06]
Concerto IV a 2 [4.29]
Concerto I a 4 [2.34]
Königsberga” a 3 [3.38]
Canzon II a 4 [3.15]
“Chromatica” [4.15]
Mikolaj ZIELENSKI (16th-17th Centuries)
Beata es Maria a 8 [2.40]
O gloriosa Domina a 5 [1.55]
Ave Maria a 7 [3.24]
Felix Namque a 8 [2.39]
Assumpta es a 8 [2.41]


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