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Stanisław MONIUSZKO (1819-1872)
Milda, cantata for solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra (1848)
Nijoła, cantata for solo voices, mixed choir and orchestra (1852)
Milda, Nijoła – Wioletta Chodowicz (soprano); Jutrzenka, Aurora – Maria Jaskulska-Chrenowicz (soprano); Narrator – Ewa Wolak (mezzo-soprano); Narrator – Sylwester Smulzyński (tenor)
Rojmos, Narrator – Robert Gierlach (baritone); Perkun – Szymon Kobliński (bass)
Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir
Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. 2019, Adam Mickiewicz University Auditorium, Poznań
Booklet included with text and libretto in Polish and English translation.
DUX 1640 [48:15 + 31:11]

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Stanislaw Moniuszko occurred in 2019 when there were a number of revivals of his work, most of which remain unknown to music lovers in general. This recording is a welcome result of that anniversary.  Moniuszko created the cantata Milda working with eminent Polish writer Jozef Kraszewski and a second writer, Edward Choplicki, also had a hand in the libretto. Kraszewski was something of a force to be reckoned with among writers at that period. The composer wrote to him complaining that “...cantata, in every respect holding infinite superiority over opera. It is time we pondered whether opera is not mere ordained preposterousness.” Harsh words indeed, but which did not prevent Moniuszko from writing at least two impressive operas that have received commercial recordings, Halka (1848) and Strasny Dwr (The Haunted Manor - 1861). The result of his letter to Kraszewski was the cantata which tells the story of the goddess Milda who, although the wife of the God Perkun, takes on human form and decides to have a dalliance with Rojmos. Perkun is decidedly put out by these events and kills Rojmos. This story has some similarities to the Greek myth of Diana and Acteon.  The librettist for Nijoła is unknown but the text can possibly be attributed to Edward Choplicki. It was originally meant to be a part of a much larger work which did not come to fruition; it tells the story of the young girl, Nijoła, who is lured by a chorus of nymphs to play in the water where she looks for the “miraculous flower of happiness”. However, she is promptly abducted by the God of the underworld, Poklus.  The music that Moniuszko provided for both these scores is very agreeable and both are good examples of the highest achievements in late Romantic era compositions. The orchestrations are evocative, and in the case of Nijoła, strikingly redolent the lush waterworld of Dvořk’s Rusalka. I find myself wondering if Dvorak was aware of the Polish composer’s music when he came to compose that opera in the late 1890’s.

Milda begins with an interesting orchestral introduction permeated by foreboding. Ewa Wollack is a true pleasure to encounter as the first narrator. She has a warm and luminous mezzo with a solid core of even tone throughout her range. The second narrator is a tenor, Sylwester Smulczyński. His voice is not large but it is blessed with an attractive, slightly covered sound which is quite appealing. Maria Jaskulska sings the role of Aurora, the dawning light who snitches on Milda’s tryst with Rojmos. Her voice has a rather white tone with a tendency to become hooty when under pressure. The two largest roles are well performed by Wioletta Chodowicz and Robert Gierlach. Chodowicz has a very vibrant voice with an attractive vibrato and a definite understanding of the style required here. Despite her splendid performance I find her voice better suited to the music of Nijoła than to Milda, which sounds to me as if it requires a voice about one size smaller. She would make a wonderful Tatyana in Eugene Onegin. Mr Gierlach possesses a pleasant baritone with an attractive burr to his tone. He sings his music with authority and passion. The duet they sing in Milda is sumptuously vocalized and the urgency of the music reminded me more than once of a similar duet for Amelia and Riccardo in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera.

Łukasz Borowicz directs a loving, finely shaped reading of the two scores, coaxing excellent playing from the orchestra which highlight the inventive orchestral effects that Moniuszko provided, including some interesting touches for a solo piano in Nijoła. I was even more impressed by the work of the Podlasie Philharmonic choir. Their delivery is wonderfully clean and crisp sounding with a superb attention to dynamics. Their haunting prayer in Milda (CD1, track 4) is on its own worth the price of the discs.

The sound engineers have captured these performances with a warm acoustic that has plenty of bloom to the sound but without any loss of detail in the orchestra. The substantial accompanying booklet has in depth notes along with the libretto and full translations in English.

Mike Parr

Editor's note

The decision to put less than 80 minutes of music onto two CDs is an odd one – there are scores of discs well beyond this marker – and to then charge full price for a double CD set is an unfortunate marketing decision.