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Józef ZEIDLER (1744-1806)
Mass in D Major
Aleksandra Kubas-Kruk (soprano), Anna Radziejewska (mezzosoprano), Karol Kozłowski (tenor), Jarosław Bręk (bass), Camerata Silesia, Sinfonia Varsovia / Jerzy Maksymiuk
rec. 2017, Basilica of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, Holy Mountain, Gostyń, Poland
DUX 1474 [35:59]

I confess that Józef Zeidler was a composer previously unknown to me – but I suspect many other music-lovers are no less ignorant. Sometimes obscurity is undeserved, but the evidence of this disc is insufficient to make such a judgment. As a composer he was clearly technically highly proficient and there is much to enjoy in his music, but I am not convinced he touches musical greatness. But, of course, it does not follow that attempts to explore his music are not worthwhile, not least because doing so provides a useful window into Polish musical life in the eighteenth century.

Little is known of his life and nothing of his education – whether his musical skills were self-taught or where he might have learned his art. He is known to have worked at the monastery of Gostyń from around 1775 until his death (he is buried there), and it is unsurprising that his extant works are (largely?) ecclesiastical. Of these there are only three or four recordings in total. This new recording, like its predecessors, is a product of Musica Sacromontana, recorded at Gostyń.

Two masses, both in D major (to suit the tuning of valveless trumpets), were discovered in the Bavarian State Archives in Munich. The current recording is of the second of these (undated). The first – and much longer – Mass ‘ex D. Dur’ from 1769 has already been recorded by (apart from the soloists) the same forces (DUX 1314, [2016]). It is the grander of the two pieces.

The D major Mass is classical in expression, rhythmical, elegant, and with some unusual touches – most notably reusing the Kyrie as a reprise (but with dona eis pacem – or da pacem) to emphasise the clamant cry for peace. The effect is striking, and, as a whole, the Agnus Dei is perhaps the most original part of the Mass. But while there are such original moments, sometimes the gap between Zeidler and his contemporaries becomes evident. In the Credo he provides a lovely duet for soprano and alto at et incarnatus est. But it seems not to touch the spiritual heights that the profound religious mystery demands – something much more than nice music. As a whole the Mass is both attractive and interesting – but it lacks the depth of Mozart, to say nothing of either Michael or Josef Haydn.

Performances are as fine as one would expect from Sinfonia Varsovia and Jerzy Maksymiuk, the latter a conductor of distinction. Soloists blend well and the Camerata Silesia (23 voices) are well-trained and enthusiastic, though diction could be more precise. Even allowing for different Latin pronunciation in different European traditions, there were moments when I had to fill in consonants for myself. Notes are useful, given the paucity of information about Zeidler. Recording and production values are very good, though by modern standards a CD of 36 minutes might seem short value.

In general, then, the work is worthy of exploration, but I would be surprised if it inspires many future recordings.

Michael Wilkinson

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