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Henryk Mikołaj GÓRECKI (1933–2010)
Sanctus Adalbertus Op.71 (1997)
Ewa Tracz (soprano), Stanislav Kuflyuk (baritone)
Silesian Philharmonic Choir
Silesian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Mirosłav Jacek Błaszcyk
rec. 2019, Karol Stryja Concert Hall of the Henryk Mikołaj Górecki Silesian Philharmonic, POland DUX 7651 [55:30]
I must begin this review with a practical warning in that the back cover of this disc mentions five tracks which you might – as I did at first – count as movements of the oratorio. Not quite, indeed, since the first track (Introduction) is just a reading in Polish of the booklet notes, so you may skip that immediately when preparing to listen to the piece itself.
This oratorio, the second panel of triptych devoted to Polish martyrs (the first one being Beatus Vir Op.38 in praise of St Stanislaus and dedicated to the Polish pope John Paul II and the projected but never realised third one dedicated to Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a martyr of Auschwitz) has had a rather complicated genesis in that due to ill health, the composer was not able to complete the score in time for the 1997 pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to Poland and thus it could not then be performed. The autograph score was discovered in the Górecki archives by his son. The oratorio was eventually first performed in 2015 during a gala concert to mark the 70th anniversary of PWM Polish Music Publishers. The notes also tell us that the oratorio is often referred to as 'the big Adalbert' as opposed to the 'small Adalbert', a cantata titled Salve sidus Polonorum Op.72 (2000) based on the third movement of Sanctus Adalbertus.
So much regarding the origins of the oratorio and time now to turn to the work itself. As I already hinted n the preliminary remarks above, the oratorio is quite a large-scale work in four movements: Psalm, Lauda, Hymnus and Gloria. The texts chosen by the composer are actually very short, so the opening Psalm sets two lines from Psalm 115 capped by florid Alleluias (a recurring motive through the work). It opens fairly calmly with tolling bells which – to me at least – bring the very opening of Britten's War Requiem to mind. (Incidentally, I was unable to spot any reference to Elgar's music as suggested by Adrian Thomas.) As is often the case, Górecki's late music proceeds by repetition with increase of dynamic level rather than by development proper, so the seven words that make up the first movement are repeated in different textures and dynamics leading to the final Alleluia sung by the soloists echoed by the chorus in a rhythmic formula that will recur later in the work. The way the second movement is built upon - the full choir intones the first invocation to Sanctus Adalbertus followed by the single word 'sanctus' sung with mounting dynamics by the men's chorus, then the women's chorus and finally by the full chorus, the whole over a throbbing accompaniment - is a good example of Górecki's suggesting breadth of vision without actually developing his material. The third movement and by far the longest is Hymnus setting words in Polish, Czech and Latin. (Incidentally no explanation whatsoever is given as to why words in Czech have been used in the texts.) It opens with a long orchestral introduction alluding (to my ears) to some old Polish music; the Bogurodzica comes to mind. Peaceful Alleluias are intoned but soon interrupted by four sharp interjections followed by a reprise of the slow music leading into the hymn proper sung out in full force, so to say, over an ostinato in the tubular bells, the organ lending its forceful voice to the whole fabric. A reprise of the Alleluias from the first and second movements leads to a repeat of the hymn. After a reprise of the Alleluias, the music slowly fades away into a final repeat of the Alleluias shared by the soloists and the chorus. The concluding Gloria again opens with an allusion to (a quotation from?) the Bogurodzica after which the music unfolds slowly but assertively (brass much to the fore punctuated by emphatic gong strokes). This leads into the Gloria section proper over sustaining organ. Bells peal over long pedal notes in the strings and the music unfolds along a big crescendo rather abruptly cut short. The chorus sing the last words (“Sanctus Adalbertus”) deep in the basses and the music fades away into silence.
Sanctus Adalbertus is a big-hearted and deeply felt piece of music although some may find the actual musical material a bit too repetitive in regard of the scarcity of the words set in the course of the oratorio. Those who know Górecki's music will know what to expect, especially if they are familiar with large-scale choral-orchestral works such as the Symphony No.2 'Copernican' Op.31 and Beatus Vir Op.38 that do have much in common with the oratorio in terms of style and music-making. The main difference, as far as I am concerned, is that the composer obviously chose to set too few words to sustain such a long work playing for a little over fifty minutes and, by so doing, had to rely rather heavily on repetition. I for one would have favoured some more variety both in the musical material and its development. Anyway, I have to repeat that this is a big-boned, deeply felt and sincere piece of music that receives here a formidable performance from strongly committed performers; the Silesian Philharmonic Choir sing splendidly throughout and the Silesian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra support them wholeheartedly whereas Błaszcyk conducts with a clear view of the work's structure. The recorded sound is very fine and I must say that the organ is clearly to be heard when needed.
A very fine release that should appeal to admirers of Górecki's music; my only caveat, if there must be one, is that the insert notes tell us very little about the work's structure and the way things are put into place.