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Władysław BRANKIEWICZ (1853-1929)
Complete Works for Organ
Stanisław Diwiszek (organ)
rec. 2018, The Conversion of St. Paul Church, Lublin, Poland

It has been said that Poland is the most Catholic country in Europe. That seems to be carried over into the music of Władysław Brankiewicz. Many of the pieces here are quite devotional in character. A quick internet search on the composer gives quite patchy results. What there is is in Polish; the search engine’s ‘translate’ facility comes into its own here. Brankiewicz was born in Lublin, the son of a church organist who eventually became organist at Lublin’s Cathedral, and was also Władysław’s first music teacher. Władysław Brankiewicz went on to learn to play the piano and violin at the local school and through private lessons at the local school, and later in composition. After his father’s death in 1871, he assumed his responsibilities including the appointment as organist at the St. John the Baptist & St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Lublin, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. The vast majority of his music was composed for this position, including many pieces for a male voice choir called ‘Drumla’ that he and his close friend Stanisław Lewicki had founded to improve the musical life of the city. The majority of Brankiewicz’s compositions remain in manuscript form. They are religious in nature and composed for use within the liturgy. In his introduction to the booklet notes, the organist Stanisław Diwiszek discusses how he had to edit and complete some of the pieces performed here.

This disc presents the entirety of Władysław Brankiewicz written music. He became very adept at improvisation during the church services, none of which he committed to paper. An influence on his music were the French organ composers of the nineteenth century. The disc opens with a short Ceremonial March which is ideal for, as the title suggests, the entry of the clergy in to the church at the beginning of the service. It is a bold processional piece with a lively pace that bounces along. This is followed by a series of Eight Preludes, short pieces to introduce certain points of the liturgy, not so much an organ mass in the French sense, but rather just a short introduction to let the congregation know that it is time to prepare. These short Preludes contain some wonderful music. Many are quite meditative in character in keeping with the section of the liturgy that they introduce, such as the lovely Benedictus. Others, such as the boisterous character suited to the opening hymn of praise, all are lovely and display the composer’s faith and devotion.

The Fantasy in D minor follows on well in the way that it incorporates its louder sections with the more devotional slower sections. This is a fine piece in which Brankiewicz develops a number of themes and melds them into a whole. As the name of the next three pieces would suggest, the Rondo and the Meditation pour harmonium as well as the Witaj święta i poczęta [Hail o saint and begotten] pour harmonium could well have been composed for a lesser instrument than his own in the Cathedral. Harmoniums were popular in smaller churches and chapels. This is not to say that they require a lesser performer in the Rondo, Brankiewicz’s only incomplete work, one that Stanisław Diwiszek has edited and completed, in particular calling for some quite virtuosic playing. They are also, as their French titles suggest, composed in the French style; the third of these pieces is more like a slow and stately march, ideal for use during Communion. There is some wonderful fugal writing in the short Fughetta. The following Andante cantabile exploits a more lyrical aspects of the composer’s writing, with a charming and once again devotional theme at the heart of the piece.

There then follows what the booklet notes describe as “The key work of this edition”. It is a series of fourteen short preludes based upon Polish carols and Christmas folk songs. Very little is written on them in the notes. The series opens with a rousing performance of Anioł pasterzom mówił [The angel spoke to shepherds] which opens the first book of the Preludes. The second book, opening with a more devotional feel, contains the charming and somewhat familiar-sounding Anielski chór pasterzom ogłasza [The angels’ choir announces to the shepherds]. As the second book, the third also opens with a piece entitled W żłobie leży [He lies in a manger], but this more animated version reminded me at first, I do not know why, of Tchaikovsky, something which is carried over, and perhaps even more so, in the following Andante pastorale; there is something Nutcrackerish about the music here. These are followed by three charming Preludes with just a number and no title.

The following works are not by Władysław Brankiewicz, but by his successor Władysław Szawaryn who assumed the organists’s position in 1929. These are the only extant works of Szawaryn, who died in Auschwitz. Both pieces fit in well with the devotional character of Brankiewicz’s music and are in fact arrangements of When Trepidation Comes and Oh, Sacred Heart.

For the final three works we return to Władysław Brankiewicz. The first two are sad songs for voice and organ. Both these pieces represent tragedy in the composer’s life. I am so sad, oh God was composed on the death of his first wife; Lamentation was written in response to the death of his daughter. The deep and dark emotions therein are totally at odds with the final piece, simply called Wedding March. Perhaps it was composed for the composer’s second marriage; we return to the unbridled joy of the opening piece on the disc.

This is a most enjoyable disc. Acte Préalable should once again be applauded for bringing it to our attention. This is music for the church and not for the concert hall, and is all the more valuable for that. All too often the showy pushes out the devotional music. Here is a disc that goes some way to redressing the balance. It is recorded not in the Cathedral, the composer’s own church, but in the next-door church, because the Cathedral’s organ was being refurbished. Stanisław Diwiszek points out that the Rieger organ of The Conversion of St. Paul Church is probably more in keeping with the original organ sound that these pieces were composed for. All I know is that it sounds terrific. Good and informative booklet notes in both Polish and English are included, but sadly no texts and translations of the two songs.

Stuart Sillitoe

1 Marsz Uroczysty [1:50]
Przygrywki do mszy świętej
2 Kyrie [1:59]
3 Gloria [0:41]
4 Graduale [0:26]
5 Credo [0:55]
6 Offertorium [1:28]
7 Sanctus [1:05]
8 Benedictus [1:27]
9 Agnus Dei [2:07]
10 Fantazja in D minor [3:40]
11 Rondo pour harmonium [1:44]
12 Meditation pour harmonium [3:07]
13 Witaj święta i poczęta pour harmonium [2:42]
14 Fughetta [1:15]
15 Andante cantabile [1:59]
Preludia na okres Bożego Narodzenia vol. I
16 Anioł pasterzom mówił [1:29]
17 Wśród nocnej ciszy [1:24]
18 Przybieżeli do Betlejem [1:11]
19 Pan z nieba i z łona [1:00]
20 Gdy się Chrystus rodzi [2:04]
21 Bog się rodzi [1:34]
Preludia na okres Bożego Narodzenia vol. II
22 W żłobie leży [1:19]
23 Anielski chór pasterzom ogłasza [1:17]
24 Pan znieba i z łona [1:07]
Preludia - pastorałki na okres Bożego Narodzenia vol. III
25 W żłobie leży [1:10]
26 Andante pastorale [1:12]
27 Prelude no. 1 [1:07]
28 Prelude no. 4 [1:43]
29 Prelude no. 7 [1:16]
Władysław SZAWARYN (1891-1941)
30 Gdy trwoga nas ogarnie [0:55]
31 O Serce Jezusa [1:04]
32 Smutno mi, Boże! [2:58]
33 Tren żałobny [2:41]
34 Marsz Weselny [2:34]

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