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Rafał AUGUSTYN (b. 1951)
Sub Iove
Three Roman Nocturnes for mixed choir [12.13]
Missa semibrevis for choir and organ [21.49]
Od Sasa, Sounds-rests-events for mixed choir [7.55]
Vagor ergo sum, small cantata to words by Zbigniew Herbert, Emperor Hadrian and Italian National Railways for mixed choir and gongs [22.02]
Agnieszka Drożdżewska (soprano)
Monika Michaliszyn (mezzosoprano)
Joanna Rot (contralto)
Julian Gembalski (organ)
Jarosław Jędraś, Jacek Muzioł (percussion)
Cantores Minores Wratislavienses/Piotr Karpeta
rec. Jan Kaczmarek Concert Hall, Radio Wrocław, February 2013
CD ACCORD ACD212-2 [64.52]

Rafał Augustyn is a composer whose name was not wholly unfamiliar, but this was the first time I was conscious of listening to any of his music at length. It was certainly worth the effort, and will appeal to anyone who would wish to explore music which has a simplicity and beauty (artfully constructed) in the spirit of composers such as Pärt or Gorecki.

Augustyn was born in Wrocław (formerly Breslau – Klemperer was also born there), studied there (under Ryszard Bukowski) for three years, and subsequently (1975-1977) at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice, where his composition teacher was Górecki. In addition to Augustyn’s work as composer, pianist and music critic, he is a distinguished philologist, working at the institute of Polish Philology at Wrocław University since 1979. Little of his music has been recorded, apart from his Music for and with String Quartet (CD ACCORD ACD 165-10) from 2010. No-one, as far as I know, has attempted to record his ‘Symphony of Hymns’ which lasts 100 minutes and requires an orchestra of 170: perhaps an enterprising company will take it up. On the evidence of the current CD, his is music which deserves to be heard.

Each piece on the current CD has its own character. The Three Roman Nocturnes use pieces, by Ennius, Catullus and Seneca, each strongly characterised by shifting perspectives and each distinctive, with very subtle use of the small choir.

The Missa semibrevis is perhaps the most immediately appealing work. It is a substantial Mass setting, which, in addition to the expected five parts (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus/Benedictus, Agnus Dei), most unusually begins with a Confiteor, normally used liturgically as a personal confession of sin and plea for repentance, conventionally simply spoken at the beginning of Mass. The idiom of the Missa semibrevis has shadows of Eastern European liturgical chant and Latin plainsong, while being unabashedly modern, perhaps with hints of Bartók. The clarity of enunciation and pinpoint choral accuracy are both telling.

Od Sasa is a fascinating piece. The first section, ‘Epistles’ is not Biblical but a till receipt for smoked fish, the second movement is a song for basketballers, the third, ‘Autumn Malady’ is a brief list, apparently connected with a bad stomach, and the final part, ‘Production Line’ concludes with the cry “I’ll be a Polish intellectual – Hurrah!”.

The final work, is longer, but no less eclectic in its sources. I cannot think of another composition which uses railway announcements to frame more serious pieces of text. The announcements include an arrival, a delayed arrival, and a cancellation as a result of industrial action, which is perhaps a little too familiar to listeners like me who travel on Southern trains… But it’s a fascinating and rewarding piece.

Performances are obviously carefully prepared, precise and splendidly clear. Recording quality benefits from both exceptional clarity and depth – this is demonstration class.

This is one to enjoy and revisit – both fascinating and lovely.

Michael Wilkinson



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