Martyrum Polonorum Laudes
Andrzej DUTKIEWICZ (b.1942)
Hymnus in honorem Sancti Andreae (1998) [4.40]
Michał SŁAWECKI (b.1982)
Ostani list św, Maksymilliana Kolbe do marki (2007) [5.04]
Łukasz URBANIAK (b.1980)
Missa in honorem beati Georgii Popielusko (2013) [19.21]
Various plainchants and anthems [29.10]
Mulierum Schola Gregoriana Clamaverunt Iusti
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University Choir
Nova et Vetera Orchestra/Michal Sławeski
rec. St Dominicus Church, Warsaw, 26 October 2014; St John the Baptist Archcathedral, Warsaw, 7 June 2014; Mazowsze Matecznik, Otrebusy, 26 June 2014
DUX 1230 [58.17]
I have sometimes observed in the past the manner in which booklet notes can set the listener’s back up before he or she even listens to a disc, usually because of fulsome and uncritical praise or because of tendentious arguments which have little or nothing to do with the matter in hand. That said, it is most unusual to encounter a disc where the booklet notes seem designed to alienate listeners in the manner that Emilia Dudkenwicz does here, beginning with a quotation from St Augustine on the subject of martyrdom which she describes as “an example of the most perfect imitation of their Master” whose “Cross embraces the whole world and all times”. Even if one accepts the extreme form of the Christian ascetic enshrined in these words, the reader might surely cavil at the description of Mary as the “Queen of the Martyrs”. Since she was not martyred – indeed, according to modern Catholic doctrine, she was bodily assumed into Heaven – one is left wondering what on earth the writer is talking about. Fortunately, after about a page of this sort of thing, we finally get on to the subject of the music contained on this disc although unfortunately the writer never passes up on the slightest opportunity to proselytise or preach.
The disc itself begins with nearly half an hour of unaccompanied singing, both plainchant and traditional Polish hymns recorded in a beautifully resonant acoustic by a sizeable choir. Anna Mitura provides some superbly poised solo singing on the first track. The singers, all female, are warm and rich in tone with never the slightest suspicion of edge, and firmly pitched. The music itself, delivered in this manner, has the enticing engagement of Hildegard of Bingen. The failure to provide texts or translations, however, reduces it to the level of atmospheric melismata, completely missing the engagement which the booklet notes so urgently request us to feel.
The other half of the disc presents three contemporary works, where again the failure to provide texts and translations prohibits the sense of identity which is ideally wanted. That for the piece by Andrzej Dutkiewicz does however seem to consist of words from the Ordinary of the Mass, so an experienced listener can at least understand something of what is intended. Unfortunately the piece itself is hardly inspiring, beginning with a series of pecking chords which stretch the sopranos of the choir (here joined by male voices) well beyond their comfort zone, reaching for the occasional sustained high notes in a manner which comes unpleasantly close to a scream. Towards the end the music settles down momentarily and the choir sound more at ease. The piece by Michal Sławecki, who conducts expertly throughout, is much more pleasant to listen to, written with a real understanding for choral voices; although the lack of texts or translations here is more serious since the work is sung in Polish, drawn from a letter written (in German) from Auschwitz with only the words “Meine liebe Mutter” audible as a sort of refrain.
The disc concludes with a setting of the Mass by Łukasz Urbaniak, and here we finally meet the Nova et Vetera orchestra, a “project-based ensemble” drawn largely from players of the Polish Radio Orchestra. The work is set in a pleasant almost pastoral style – think of a cross between Duruflé and Finzi – although here the decidedly different acoustic sets the choir rather far back behind the rich instrumentation. The music is attractive without being particularly memorable, and the more lively movements such as the Gloria and Sanctus rather lack impact in the recessed recording. The work omits the Credo but the final extended setting of the Agnus Dei is particularly lovely.
I look forward with some anticipation to future works by Michal Sławecki and Łukasz Urbaniak, but otherwise I fear this release will be of limited attraction to other than particularly interested listeners. The performances are excellent, and the recording of the unaccompanied choral pieces is fine, but with the best will in the world I found the booklet notes a positive barrier to enjoyment even had texts and translations been provided. Nor is the disc particularly generous in terms of playing time.
Paul Corfield Godfrey