Romuald TWARDOSKI (b.1930)
Oratio pro vivis ac defunctis [5:01]
Marcin Tadeusz ŁUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
I Memorare, o plissima Virgo Maria [3:23]
II Converte me Domine ad Te [3:16]
Marian SAWA (1937-2005)
De profundis (Psalm 130) [9:18]
Piotr TABAKIERNIK (b.1986)
Lux aeterna (fragment of Requiem) [3:42]
Paweł ŁUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
Luctus Mariae [26:34]
Dorota Całek (soprano)
Marietta Kruzel-Sosnowska (organ)
rec. 2014, Bazylika architedralna św. Jana Chrzciciela, Warsaw (Luctus Mariae); 2016, Kościół Akademicki św. Anny, Warsaw (other works). DDD.
Booklet in Polish and English
Sung texts in Latin or Polish, with English translations provided.
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0378 [51:19]
The words that make up the two-language (Latin and Polish) title of this CD can, I think, both be understood to refer to grief, mourning or lamentation. In a sense the crucifixion of Christ and his mother’s suffering at the foot of the cross are the subtext (when not explicit) to everything here. (The cover of the disc’s booklet carries a photograph of an anonymous wooden crucifix of the fourteenth century).
The most substantial work on this disc is the Luctus Mariae of Pawel Łukaszewski. Łukaszewski, best known for his sacred choral works, works within an idiom which has been described as “resolutely anti-modern”. Certainly he is not a composer tempted by the modish or merely fashionable, and he has a clear respect for the great tradition of Catholic choral music. His Luctus Mariae sets a Latin text by Professor Jerzy Wojtczak-Szyszkowski; though I haven’t been able to check this, I suspect that the poem comes from his 1990 collection Gloria, Laus, Honor. The text is clearly modelled on that of the Stabat Mater, of which Łukaszewski wrote a setting in the mid 1990s, for three female choirs. The origins of the present work are explained by the composer in words quoted in the CD booklet: “The direct inspiration was the meeting with the author of the text …The exquisite Latin poem, whose rhythms are based upon the Latin sequence Stabat Mater, gave me the impulse to create a piece referring to the Stabat Mater by Giovanni Batista Pergolesi … Thus I composed arias and duos (13 parts in total) with the accompaniment of baroque instruments.” This original version was for soprano and mezzo soprano (or countertenor), harpsichord and string quintet (or string orchestra). There don’t appear to be any direct musical allusions to Pergolesi’s work. Originally written in 2010, the booklet note (by Marcin Tadeusz Łukaszewski, brother of the composer, I believe) tells us that “both pieces [i.e by Pergolesi and Pawel Łukaszewski] were performed during a concert at the St. Albert and St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Warsaw during Lent in 2010”. It would have been a great privilege to have been at that concert. An interesting essay might be written on the affinities (and differences) between the two compositions, though this is not the place to attempt such a thing. Nor, of course, does this recording provide a basis for such a comparison, since this recording presents Łukaszewski’s work in as revision for soprano and organ, made in 2012 at the request of the soprano Dorota Całek.
Luctus Mariae works well in this second version as, in effect, a solo cantata for soprano and organ. I initially felt that Dorota Calek had too operatic a voice and manner to be the perfect soloist, but, over several hearings, have grown to feel that the element of theatricality (which is certainly not overdone) serves to articulate a ‘dramatic’ element which is there in the text, which both paints a scene and also contains a dramatic monologue, as it were, for the Virgin.
Pawel Łukaszewski’s text comes, as has been said, from a modern Polish author (the tradition of Latin verse lives on quite powerfully in Poland). Two of the other works on this disc, set texts by a far earlier author, Gertruda Mieszkówna (c.1025-1108), who has been described as the earliest Polish author known to us by name. Gertruda was the daughter of the Polish king Mieszko II and later wife of Izjaslaw I, Grand Prince of Kiev, a marriage which drew her into a complex political situation and a life of violently changing fortunes. On the occasion of her wedding, Gertruda’s mother gave her a beautifully illuminated Psalter, known as the Codex of Egbert. Gertuda’s very real faith inspired to write prayers of her own, which were added to this manuscript (it is now in the cathedral of Cividale in northern Italy). Gertruda’s prayers (of which there are almost a hundred) were written over a number of years; they display considerable literary skill, a sound grounding in the theology of the day, and a spiritual life of some intensity. Throughout the prayers (such, at least, as I have been able to read) there is a powerful sense of God’s compassion. Romuald Twardowski’s Oratio pro vivis ac defunctis and the second of Marcin Tadeusz Łukaszewski’s Due preghiere (Converte me, Domine, ad Te) both set texts taken from Gertruda’s prayers. Twardowski’s Oratio has an impressive dignity, as do the performances by Dorota Całek and the admirable Marietta Kruzel-Sosnowska. Although the emotional origins of Getruda’s prayers often seem distinctly personal (and may be related to the turbulent difficulties of her life) and have been described as “conversations with God”, they have also been used as public prayers and it is on the public dimension that this setting concentrates.
The other setting of Latin words by Gertruda, by Marcin Tadeusz Łukaszewski’s Converte me, Domine, ad Te, is a strikingly beautiful piece. The text has a petitionary urgency; in the booklet translation by Gerard Kilroy it begins thus:
Turn me, O Lord, to you and drive from me all my bad habits;
grant that I may hate all my wickedness, and love all Your goodness.
The urgency of the text is largely conveyed by the complex organ accompaniment, while the vocal line remains essentially contained and meditative. The effect of this disjunction is curiously moving. I did, though, wonder whether this piece would not work even better if sung by a soprano with a lighter voice than Całek possesses. Still, Łukaszewski wrote the piece at the specific request of Dorota Całek and was doubtless very familiar with her voice!
The first of Łukaszewski’s Due preghiere sets a well-known prayer to the Virgin Mary, which is often attributed to St. Bernard of Clerveaux, though his authorship of the words is by no means certain. Whoever their author might have been, the Latin words express powerfully and beautifully an absolute trust in the protection of the Virgin (“non esse auditum a saeculo, quemquam ad tua currentem praesidia, tua implorantem auxilia, tua petentem suffragia, esse derelictum” / “never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided”). Dorota Całek’s singing has an especially powerful expressiveness here, complemented by some sensitive accompaniment by Marietta Kruzel-Sosnowska. This short piece is one of the highlights of the disc.
Another highlight comes in the form of the late Marian Sawa’s setting of the Latin text of Psalm 130. Całek is a perfect interpreter of Sawa’s intensely dramatic setting and Kruzel-Sosnowska (a noted authority on Sawa’s music and President of the Marian Sawa Society) unsurprisingly proves to be an insightful partner in this music. There have, of course, been many settings of this Psalm, both by canonical composers such as Lassus and Mozart and by such radically different modern figures such as Bernstein and Pärt. Sawa may not be so thoroughly distinctive a composer as some of these, but he was always a highly accomplished writer, and in this piece the adventurousness of the writing for the organ and his forcefully expressive music for the soprano result in a setting, which need not fear comparison with any of its many predecessors. Written in 2002, Sawa’s De Profundis was first performed in 2012 by Całek and Kruzel-Sosnowska. It is hard to imagine a more authoritative performance of the work, or more persuasive advocacy of its merits than that which can now be heard on this CD.
Marian Sawa, and the institution at which he was a vey important presence - the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw – are, in a sense, twin presences throughout this very interesting collection of sacred music. I believe I am correct in saying that all of these composers and, indeed, both the performers, have been students and/or performers at the Academy. The composer of the one work I haven’t yet discussed, Piotr Tabakiernik, is quite explicit about the influence of Sawa on his setting of the Lux aeterna. In his booklet notes Marcin Tadeusz Łukaszewski quotes Tabakiernik as saying that the work was created “as a sort of homage to Marian Sawa, the teacher who had quite an impact on my creative development. Its musical language highlights the impact of Sawa’s Staimed Glass Windows, and it is not a coincidence – during that time, his works were an important guide to me”. This setting from the text of the Requiem Mass was written in 2006 (the year after Sawa’s death, so that the idea of tribute must have seemed particularly appropriate), when Tabakiernik would have been about twenty. The youngest composer represented on this disc, Tabakiernik now seems uneasy about this early work, since he is also quoted as saying that “My musical language and the general attitude towards composition has completely changed since then, so much so that I look at Lux aeterna as if it was the work of another composer”. Creative artists – at any rate those of real substance – have to move on, but there is surely no need for Tabakiernik to feel embarrassed by this striking ‘miniature’. I call it a ‘miniature’ purely in light of its brevity – the current performance takes less than four minutes – since its subject matter is, of course, huge! Its high soprano line is balanced by ostinato writing for the organ (reasonably described as “nearly minimalistic” by Łukaszewski), the relationship between the two not being adequately covered by ideas of ‘accompaniment’. The result has a distinctive beauty – as does pretty well everything on this rewarding disc, testimony to the flourishing state of sacred music in post-communist Poland.