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Joanna BRUZDOWICZ (b. 1943)
A la tombée du jour (2008) [17:28]
U schyłku dnai [18:51]
Yves Daoudal-Soler (narrator); Catherine Dagois (contralto); Edgar Teufel (organs) (A la tombée du jour)
Jerzy Radziwiłowicz (narrator); Jaroslaw Bręk (bass-baritone); Tomasz Jocz (piano) (U schyłku dnai)
rec. 2019, Studio IDEM, Le Soler, France; Studio S1, Polish Radio
Texts not provided

Joanna Bruzdowicz is a Polish composer who studied in France and who has close connections with the French Catalonian region around the city of Perpignan. Her list of works, as viewed on the Polish Music Center website, is impressive, and comprises symphonies, concertos, and works for theatre that include operas and ballets.
A la tombée du jour (‘At the close of the day’) is a setting of words by the French writer and philosopher, Jean Soler (1933-2019). They are read at the beginning of the disc, in French, by Soler’s son, but the listener will search for them in vain in the booklet, either in French or in translation. The reading takes a little over three minutes, so the musical setting lasts about fourteen. The words amount to a reflection on death, the writer’s own, and the relative pointlessness of continued existence as death approaches, a sombre message indeed. As read here, they come across as continuous text, but the musical treatment inserts a number of pauses, as if to create individual songs in line with the composer’s designation of the work as a song-cycle. The performance begins directly after the reading, with no separate band between speech and singing. The first sound we hear is that of an organ; we could be in a French church, dusty darkness, solemnity and incense, where the organist has pulled out the tremolo stop. Catherine Dagois is a real contralto and the opening of the work stays resolutely at the bottom of her voice. Her vibrato is very wide, and though French speakers will pick out at least some of the words, others will find it a hopeless task. With the second song it becomes obvious that the accompaniment is provided by a sophisticated digital instrument, hence the composer’s description of the work as having been conceived for ‘contralto and organs’, though the booklet’s title page credits Edgar Teufel as playing a piano. The marmoreal atmosphere at the opening of the work could have been created by a Gounod or a César Franck; and indeed, though the musical language is often rather more advanced than these models, the mood rarely strays very far. There is little variety of pace or contrast, at one, I suppose, with the spirit of the text. A curious feature of the work is that most of the songs, including the final one, end inconclusively.
The composer writes that Jean Soler expressed a wish to hear the work in Polish. She therefore translated the poems herself, and the musical setting, in Polish, takes up the second band of the disc. Once again the words are read, now by the actor, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, a reading that runs for just short of four and half minutes. I do not speak Polish, but I find the reading very affecting, rather as I do the preface to Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle when read in the original Hungarian. Once again, however, no text is provided in the booklet. What follows is a second performance of the same work in its Polish version, U schyłku dnai. I prefer it: Jaroslaw Bręk’s fine delivery is unhampered by the French singer’s intrusive vibrato and the cleaner piano textures, expertly played by Tomasz Jocz, provide the listener with a much clearer idea of the work. Polish and French being two very different languages requiring different musical treatment, the composer doubtless incorporated a number of purely musical modifications in creating the Polish version. At the end of the work, for example, there are notes in the vocal line that do not figure in the French version. (Also, Tomasz Jocz, in momentarily holding the left hand bass notes, creates a final cadence that brings the work to a more conclusive close.) With no access to the score, however, I am unable to say with any precision how much the two versions differ.

William Hedley

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