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Stanisław MONIUSZKO (1819-1872)
Sacred Music
Mass in A minor (1856) [17:30]
Intende voci (1856) [4:12]
Illumina oculos meos (1869)[1:30]
Laudate Dominum (1866) [3:30]
Polish Mass in E minor (1855) [19:57]
Christmas Carol (1856) [1:46]
Joanna Łukaszewska, Iwona Pańta (soprano)
Łukasz Farcinkiewicz (organ)
Musica Sacra Warsaw-Praga Cathedral Choir / Paweł Łukaszewski
rec. 2019, Chapel of the Higher Theological Seminary of the Warsaw-Praga Diocese, Warsaw
Sung texts (in Polish and Latin) printed in the booklet
DUX 1648 [48:38]

Stanisław Moniuszko was born in 1819 and thus 2019 was his bicentenary anniversary. Naturally this was celebrated in his native Poland and it resulted in, not a flood but at least a stream of recordings of his music. The present disc is one of those. To most music lovers outside Poland he is primarily known as the developer of a national Polish opera, where Halka (1848, rev. 1858) and Straszny dwór (The Haunted Castle) (1865) are the most famous. He also composed more than 300 songs, which are very attractive. His sacred music is probably less well-known but it was perhaps the genre that was closest to his heart. He composed religious works all his life and he did it, as the liner notes say, out of his inner need. He was a deeply religious man and his son wrote: ‘My father used to get up very early, at five a.m., and go to church for the first holy mass. He was always very pious and his religious compositions stemmed from the deepest layers of his soul. After mass, he took a long walk, usually beyond the town’s tollgate, and composed during that time or at least devised initial ideas.’ There are some ninety pieces that have survived, including seven complete masses. Three of those are set to Latin texts and the other four are ‘Polish’ masses, ‘set to poetic paraphrases of the liturgical text in the vernacular language.

The two masses on the present disc are ‘Polish’ with texts by Antoni Edward Odyniec. They were both composed when he was organist of St John’s Church in Vilnius during the 1850s. They are very different in spite of being written almost simultaneously. The mass in A minor is very simple in structure, intended as it was for amateur singers. There are no contrapuntal finesses and almost the whole text is arranged syllabically. This fits well to his musical credo: ‘The first and most appropriate step to introduce some order into the music played in our churches is to make the songs accessible for performance, while the artistic means should not be used to embellish simple singing but, on the contrary, to bring out its beauty.’ And in the A minor mass that is what strikes the listener at once. The music is simple and melodious, almost naively artless and had it been composed a couple of decades later the tunes could have been revival hymns, easy enough to invite the congregation to singalong. Harmonically it is also very simple and all the movements, except the Agnus, are very brief. Graduale is solemn but easy to like and Gloria is enthusiastic, almost jolly, like a Christmas Carol. The two soloists who appear in a couple of the movements, create some variety, but there is certainly no monotony and the voices, both the soloists and the chorus at large, are of a quality that is on an artistic level, widely surpassing the intended amateurs. The organ accompaniment is discreet but there are some short solo passages for the instrument. All in all this mass is unassuming but very likeable.

The E minor mass, composed the year before the A minor, is structurally much more coherent with polyphonic elements and motivic uniformity and there are more contrasts in between solos and tuttis and the organ is more active and even has pregnant solo postlude. Even though this is also well-behaved and easy-listened music it makes a greater impact and digs deeper.

Between the two masses there are some independent pieces, two of which were composed after Moniuszko’s years in Vilnius, Illumina oculos meos and Laudate Dominum. Melodious they are too. As a bonus after the E minor mass we are offered a charming Christmas Carol, Kolęda. Fresh and lively and joyous it is a perfect finale.

The playing time is short – there could have been room for at least one more mass – but with excellent singing of twenty well-schooled ladies with not a wobbler or a screamer in sight this is still a very attractive disc for those who want to widen their knowledge of one of the greatest Polish composers of the 19th century.

Göran Forsling

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