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17th century Sacred Music in Wrocław
Gli Angeli Genève
Concerto Palatino
Wrocław Baroque Orchestra/Stephan MacLeod
Notes in Polish, English, and German; no texts
rec. 2016, National Forum of Music, Wrocław, Poland
CLAVES 50-1805 [77:54]

Various aspects of the 17th century musical scene in Poland have already been charted, if hardly exhausted, in compilations by Manfred Cordes with the Weser-Renaissance Bremen (review), and two by The Sixteen, which feature some of the same composers as in this new Claves recording. There is also a more comprehensive programme of music by Bartlomiej Pekiel from Il Canto under Michał Straszewski’s direction (review). Stephan MacLeod now offers an extensive compendium of works which reveals the rich musical life in Wrocław, through compositions that were written or preserved in that busy city, which was then in Bohemia and known as Breslau.

In neither the sacred choral or instrumental chamber music included here is there yet a distinctively Polish style of composition, but the music bears witness to the fact of the city’s cultural cosmopolitanism in that period as it drew upon the latest compositional trends imported from Italy – despite being Protestant at that time – as well as upon developments in neighbouring German-speaking regions. In the larger-scale choral works, the influence of the Gabrielis – the pre-eminent Venetian composers active around the turn of the 17th century – is manifest. MacLeod and his forces take the expansive and generally homophonic chordal progressions of those works solemnly and leisurely, allowing these blocks of sound to fill the generous acoustic of the National Forum of Music in Wrocław itself.

Aspirilio Pacelli’s Dum esset rex is scored in twenty parts altogether, divided among five choirs, mixing voices and instruments, and there is not so much a sense of cut and thrust as that the music is passed around these ensembles antiphonally, unfolding like the gradual opening out of a vast architectural space. Crato Bütner’s O quanta in coelis laetitia follows the style of Giovanni Gabrieli’s motets with the breadth of its choral writing, crowned by the radiantly high tessitura of the sopranos at the pitch in which this performance is taken, and underpinned by the ceremonial gravitas of the brass accompaniment. Tobias Zeutschner’s German-language motet Der Herr gebe euch vom Tau des Himmels also imitates such Italianate models with its wide-spaced choral sections, but the overall structure is more complex, as these alternate with the faster-paced, almost stuttering dialogue among the solo voices, and more embellished instrumental interludes, all threaded through with some ornamented lines for the violins. Despite the disparity of textures, MacLeod again keeps his forces together convincingly.

It is in the other German settings that a more distinctive character emerges in the music. Martin Mayer’s Heilig ist der Herre Zebaoth might exemplify the same structural monumentality as the Italianate precedents mentioned, but the music also has a rhythmic vitality, ably brought out by the performers here, in response to the metres and stresses of the German words, that makes it comparable with the great ecclesiastical music of the recently-deceased Heinrich Schütz, who worked principally not so far away in Dresden. Daniel Bollius’s dialogue Domine puer meus is scored for just two solo voices, and instrumental accompaniment, but coming from the pen of a composer who also wrote an early German oratorio, it is unsurprising that the direct but expressively chromatic setting of the words creates a dramatically effective atmosphere, brought out by Alex Potter’s and MacLeod’s plangent singing, and the mellow rasping of the trombone and bassoon’s dark tones. A similar quasi-operatic intensity is brought to bear in the two contrafactum settings here, i.e. works with new words fitting existing music: the inwardness and subtlety of Marco Scachhi’s O Tod, du darfst nicht glauben bespeaks the chamber-like sensibility of its madrigal original; and the dialogue O Jesu mi dulcissime has two tenors calling out to each other across space like the Duo Seraphim of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, one singer sounding more lyrical than the other to distinguish the two parts further.

The vocal and choral pieces here are contrasted with various contemporary sonatas and instrumental compositions. The strings offer generally lively and vibrant playing, for example in the delightful foil to the slower-moving notes of the continuo in the Sonata by Giovanni Legrenzi, and in the scurrying imitations of Philipp Friedrich Buchner’s work, which is virtually Corellian in style. In Giovanni Valentini’s Sonata, the violins demonstrate that they are as clearly and crisply projected as the bright-sounding cornetti in that composition, or the single cornetto of Biagio Marini’s Sonata where Bruce Dickey contrives almost to replicate the splendid timbre of a trumpet. In Jarzębski’s Concerto secondo the cornetto stands out like a shaft of brilliant light against the sombre shadow of the trombone and organ.

Altogether this is a well-researched and recorded project that brings together some fine music and will surely make the listener want to explore further such little-known repertoire in the earlier phase of the Baroque period. It is just a pity there are no texts.

Curtis Rogers
Asprilio PACELLI (1570-1623)
Dum esset rex from Sacrae cantiones (1608) [6:24]
Adam JARZĘBSKI (c1590-c1648)
Concerto secondo from Canzoni e concerti (1627) [2:04]
Mikołaj ZIELEŃSKI (c1550-c1615)
Communio Introibo ad altare Dei [3:48]
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
Sonata per l’Organo, Violino o cornetto from Sonate symphonie canzoni, Op.8 (1629) [4:27]
Daniel BOLLIUS (c1590-c1638)
Domine puer meus jacet in domo [4:59]
Franciszek LILIUS (c1600-c1657)
Exultabit cor meum [3:24]
Giovanni VALENTINI (c1582-1649)
Sonata à 5 Voci [4:23]
Paul SCHÄFFER (c1580-1645)
Jauchzet dem Herren alle Welt [6:58]
Tobias ZEUTSCHNER (1621-1675)
Der Herr gebe euch vom Tau des Himmels [8:47]
Marco SCACCHI (c1602-1662)
O Tod, du darfst nicht glauben [4:30]
Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690)
Sonata VII La Donata from Sonate a due e tre, Op.2 (1655) [3:27]
Crato BÜTNER (1616-1679)
O quanta in coelis laetitia (1654) [8:13]
Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665)
O Jesu mi dulcissime (1641) [4:03]
Philipp Friedrich BUCHNER (1614-1669)
Sonata XIV from Plectrum musicum, Op.4 (1662) [4:37]
Martin MAYER(c1650-c1712)
Heilig ist der Herre Zebaoth (1676) [7:41]


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