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Otton Mieczysław ŻUKOWSKI (1867-1942)
Ave Maria Rex Coelorum - Christmas Vocal Duets
Marta Wróblewska (soprano)
Aleksandra Pawluczuk (mezzo-soprano)
Piotr Kusiewicz (tenor)
Paweł Pecuszok (tenor)
Przemysław Kummer (bass-baritone)
Dawid Zarzycki (piano)
rec. 2017, Concert Hall, The Ignacy Paderewski Music Schools, Bialystok, Poland
Booklet included (Polish, English) Song texts (Polish)

Arriving on the Fifth Day of Christmas, Acte Préalable’s recording of Polish carols arranged by Otton Mieczysław Żukowski (1867-1942) came in lieu of the five golden rings that have never once materialized in these many years. My paternal grandparents immigrated from Poland to America over a century ago and I grew up singing most of these carols in church. For many, now long gone, Christmas started only when the first notes of ‘Wśród nocnej ciszy’ sounded on the organ.

Acte Préalable has been busy resurrecting and recording the music of Żukowski. In addition to his duties as a teacher, pianist and chorus master, Żukowski was a prolific composer who lived in present-day Chernivtsi in western Ukraine. Throughout history, Bukovina, as the region was known, was a spoil of war for conquering kingdoms and empires. Its lands are now divided between Romania and the Ukraine and most ethnic Poles were repatriated after the Second World War.

The accompanying booklet contains no translations of the carols, although there are translations for the individual titles. Polish carols lean towards pastoral folk tunes, lullabies and songs of triumph; the music vividly paints the picture. There is no mistaking the sentiments of the lullaby, ‘Lulajże Jezuniu’ or the delicate hymn to the Virgin Mary, ‘Śliczna Panienka’. ‘Pospieszcie pastuszki’ that speeds the shepherd boys on their way to the manger was new to me and an instant favorite.

What is there not to like about fine voices and an excellent pianist performing duet arrangements of Christmas carols? Admittedly, it is a bit old-fashioned, as Żukowski’s graceful settings hearken back to an earlier time when carols were sung at home or in church. Indeed, it was a church organist, Eleanor White (née Jaworski), who for over 50 years played at St. Adalbert’s Church in Farrell, PA (where the first Mass was said on Christmas Day 1913) that kept this tradition alive for me and many others.

‘Wśród nocnej ciszy’ is the final carol on the disc and unites all five singers. It begins a cappella with the piano entering on the bouncy refrain. In the latter verses, the tenor intones a drone-like descant. Żukowski’s arrangement perfectly captures the twinned mystical stillness and effervescent joy so characteristic of Polish carols.

I am reluctant to peg this recording as only being of interest to a niche, Polish-speaking market. Christmas songs from around the world are woven into the holiday season’s musical fabric, even a Polish one. Sir David Willcocks introduced ‘Infant Holy, Infant Lowly’ in the first volume of Carols for Christmas over 50 years ago. ‘W żłobie leży’ is missing from this recording, perhaps intentionally. But who knows? Some twenty-first century composer/arranger may listen to this disc and we’ll soon be hearing ‘Tryumfy króla’ sung at Lessons and Carols the world over.
Rick Perdian

Śliczna Panienka [2.31]
Pospieszcie pastuszki [1.45]
Cieszmy się i pod niebiosy [1.38]
A wczora z wieczora [1.37]
Zjawiło się nam [1.59]
O gwiazdo betlejemska [2.58]
A cóż z tą dzieciną [1.39]
Dzisiaj w Betlejem [4.28]
Wesołą nowinę [3.07]
Król wiecznej chwały [1.56]
Witajże dzieciątko [2.09]
Bracia patrzcie jeno [1.45]
Narodził się Jezus Chrystus [1.37]
Jakaż to gwiazda [2.41]
Przybieżeli do Betlejem [1.58]
Lulajże Jezuniu [2.28]
Z narodzenia Pana [2.15]
Ach witajże pożądana [2.10]
Pójdźmy wszyscy [1.56]
Pasterzu [2.34]
Tryumfy króla [1.49]
Wśród nocnej ciszy [4.13]



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