Slawomir Stanislaw CZARNECKI (b.1949)
Antiphon “Hail Queen of Heaven” Op. 47 [2:19]
Hymnus Domina Claromontana – Provida Op. 45 No. 5 [4:28]
Oh, gracious Virgin Mary, Op. 48 No. 1 [4:19]
Hymnus in honorem Beatae Mariae Virginis Vilnae in Acuto Op. 45 No. 2 [5:53]
Mother of Mercy, Op. 48 No. 2 [3:09]
Hymnus in honorem Sancti Joannis Pauli Papae II [6:46]
Please, Mother of Jasna Gra, Op. 48 No. 3 [2:31]
Hymnus Immaculata, Op. 45 No. 9 [4:22]
Immaculate Virgin, Op. 48 No. 4 [4:22]
Hymnus in honorem Beatae Mariae Virginis in Sanctuario oppida Piekary, Op. 45 No. 4 [6:13]
Blessed Mary, Op. 48 No. 5 [4:08]
We thank You, Mary, Op. 48 No. 6 [2:49]
Schola Cantorum Thorunensis/Pawel Glowinski
rec. 5-8 September, 18 October, 15-16 November 2014, Church of St. Nicholas, Chelmza, Poland

Slawomir Czarnecki is a remarkable contemporary composer whose voice evokes a delightful mixture of past influences. His String Quartet No. 2, which was on one of my 2011 Recordings of the Year, brings to mind both southern Polish folk music and the rich chromaticism of Szymanowski. This choral album, the first full CD devoted to Czarnecki’s music, reveals even more about his personality. There are slight suggestions of Poulenc and Czarnecki’s teacher Messiaen, as well as striking harmonies which we associate with Baltic composers like Prt and Tormis.

This music fits well into the much older and more timeless tradition of sacred Catholic choral music. Czarnecki has been inspired, for several of his works, by his countryman Pope John Paul II. The largest work on this disc is the “Hymnus in honorem Sancti Joannis Pauli Papae II”. There’s also a choral cycle of poems written by the late pope, although it is not present on this 51-minute CD. Maybe there will be a Volume 2.

The brief opener, “Hail, Queen of Heaven”, sets the tone for the disc, with a simple, beautiful melody augmented by Czarnecki’s habit of inserting striking and unusual chords. He spent a year in Paris studying with Olivier Messiaen. All of these choral works are exceedingly beautiful, and many range all the way back to medieval and Renaissance techniques. The church acoustic helps augment this impression. At 3:00 on “Oh, gracious Virgin Mary” Op. 48 No. 1, I hear an echo of the cello hymn which begins the 1812 Overture.

Generally speaking, the Schola Cantorum Thorunensis sings professionally and capably. I’d single out their performance on track 7 (“Please, Mother”) as especially sensitive and subtle. This is the choir’s CD, and it ought not to be their last. The group was founded in 2010 by conductor Pawel Glowinski, who at the time was just 22 years old. I do have one quibble, which may be the fault of the sopranos or perhaps the engineers: the highest voices, such as at the very end of the Hymn in Honour of St. John Paul II, sound unpleasantly screechy. Czarnecki does frequently call upon the sopranos to sing extremely high notes.

Acte Prealable lists a number of other works by Czarnecki in his biography, including a number of interesting-sounding concertos for multiple soloists with string orchestra. Let’s hope they will be recording these works next. Every new release of Slawomir Czarnecki’s music suggests that he is one of the most likable, engaging composers on the European scene today.

Brian Reinhart

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