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Wojciech KILAR (1932-2013)
Missa pro pace (2000)
Joanna Woś (soprano), Malgoezata Walewska (mezzo-soprano), Pawel Brożek (tenor), Rafal Siwek (bass)
Choir and Orchestra of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic – European Art Centre in Bialystok/Miroslaw Jacek Blaszczyk
rec. 2017, Concert Hall of the Podlasie Philharmonic in Bialystok, Poland DUX 1413 [67:33]
Kilar’s Missa pro pace was written to a commission from Kazimierz Kord, who was music director for the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra from 1977 to 2001. That year the orchestra celebrated their centenary and Kord wanted a grand work for the celebration. Kilar worked with the mass for peace between July 1999 and March 2000 and it was premiered on 12 January 2001. It was written for full symphony orchestra, chorus and four soloists, but Kilar’s aim was not to produce something grand. He said in an interview in April 2001: “I tried to write the Mass as modest as possible, frugal in compositional devices, not a display of compositional virtuosity but an attempt to present my interpretation of the sacred text. In my view it is not a great pontifical mass, clad in opulent liturgical vestments but a mass celebrated in modest monastic habits, in a remote medieval monastery.”
It should be mentioned that in December the same year, Missa pro pace was performed in the Vatican in the presence of Pope John Paul II who, as many readers probably remember, was Polish by birth.
This is also the impression one gets from the very beginning. The opening of Kyrie is a dark and brooding orchestral piece, about 6˝ minutes before the central section, where the contralto a cappella sings the “Kyrie eleison”, later joined by the magnificent deep bass. Later deep strings enter as an organ point, before the full string section comes in with a melancholy melody.
The Gloria movement is something quite different. It is fast, rhythmical, joyous, repetitive, motoric. There are echoes of both The Rite of Spring and Carmina burana, the latter more relevant with its monastic connection. Soloists and chorus enter while the music retains its repetitive motoric quality. Suddenly the music stops and, after a pause Qui tollis, sung a cappella, brings calm to the proceedings. The chorus grows from pp to ff and back in a wide arc. Then a few bars of the Carmina like music brings the movement to a halt.
Credo is sung a cappella by soloists and chorus. There is a distinct ancient character to the tonal language, there is even Gregorian chant monody, which tallies with Kilar’s description of his intentions. A long tenor solo interleaved with chorus is also part of this richly contrasted movement.
The Sanctus that follows is a soprano aria accompanied by two harps and strings. It is beautiful and calm and Joanna Voś sings it beautifully.
Agnus Dei is the longest movement and it opens powerfully with the chorus repeating “Agnus Dei” three times. This is retained later on but before that the solo bass comes in a cappella, a beautiful contralto – soprano duet follows, then the male soloists also join in. Throughout the whole work there is something undelivered about the music, one gets the feeling that Kilar’s belief in the future wavers – “will there ever be peace?” – until we reach the concluding Dona nobis pacem, sung a cappella by the chorus. Then suddenly there is perfect harmony, which is retained when the orchestra, and in due time the soloists, join the chorus in a jubilant conclusion. Dona nobis pacem, the a cappella part, was the only music from this mass that I knew, having been included in an all-Kilar CD issued some years ago (review). I
nominated it as a Recording of the Month then and I have returned to that disc many a time since then.
The playing and singing on the present disc is first class and the recording is excellent. I listened to the disc in company with my wife. She is no stranger to contemporary music – and this is far from contemporary stylistically as I hope I have elucidated in this review – and she was fascinated but said she would like to hear it again, preferably live. Opportunities to hear this work live outside Poland are probably scant, but repeated listening will no doubt reveal the inherent qualities. A straight tip is to start with the joyous Gloria. And of course Dona nobis pacem is a safe bet, but unfortunately it is not separately banded on the disc. So why not get the previous CD where it is banded – and then you can’t resist getting the full work. Kilar is definitely worth getting to know.