Jósef Michał PONIATOWSKI (1816-1873)
Mass in F major (Kyrie [6.13]; Gloria [12.45]; Credo [11.49]; Sanctus [3.20]; O Salutaris [5.16]; Agnus Dei [6.36]; Amen [2.49])
Barbara Lewicka Wójcik (soprano); Donata Zuliani (mezzo); Mateusz Kołos (tenor); Robert Kaczorowski (bass); Michał Kaleta (organ)
Zespół Wokalny Wydziału Wokalno-Aktorskiego Akademii Muzyczney w Gdańsku/Przemysław Stanisławski
rec. Resurrection Church, Gdańsk Wrzeszcz, 5-6 May 2015

Poniatowski is not a well-known name, and this recording is an interesting addition to Acte Préalable’s Sacred Music series.

The composer was an aristocrat, a prince related to Stanisław August Poniatowski, who was King of Poland 1764 -1795, and a noted patron of the arts. The Poniatowski of this recording was a diplomat and politician, born in Rome and who died in London. He is buried in Chislehurst, close to Napoleon III, whom he served in later life. On the evidence of this Mass, he was more than a gifted amateur musician. In his lifetime, he was known for his tenor voice.

As a composer, his reputation rested on a series of operas, performed mainly in France and Italy. They were once very popular but today are neglected. I have been unable to find any evidence of other recordings of his work. The score for this Mass was found on the shelves of the library at Yale.

The Mass is unusual in having two additional movements, beyond the usual 5, an O Salutaris, and a final Amen. The former is a hymn, by St. Thomas Aquinas, usually sung at the service of Benediction, but occasionally sung as a Eucharistic song by the congregation, at least in past times. Here only a few words are used, not the entire hymn. The Amen is odder. The Mass, either in the Tridentine or more recent forms, does not end with ‘Amen’ — the Great ‘Amen’ follows the Canon of the mass, liturgically — but Poniatowski uses it as a conclusion. There is a musical, if not liturgical, logic to this.

The Mass is scored for four soloists, organ and SATB choir. The choir used here is a student body of 28 voices, from the Singing and Acting Faculty of the Academy of Music in Gdańsk.

The music has distinct echoes of Rossini, but has greater solemnity than some of the latter’s liturgical pieces, such as his Stabat Mater. The influence is felt rather in the subtle blend of solo voices as well as a certain lightness and transparency of texture.

The music is well-made, not technically adventurous, but attractive and devout. The recording is clear and the performances committed. Robert Kaczorowski, the bass, who also wrote the informative notes — he combines a singing career with his work as a priest and musicologist — has a fine voice, and is one of an able team of soloists.

At under 50 minutes, this disc is short by modern standards, but apparently no other work of Poniatowski was suitable as a filler. Nevertheless, this music has more than simply patriotic interest.

Michael Wilkinson
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