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Mater Mundi
Ola GJEILO (b. 1978)
Ubi Caritas [3:32]
Paweł ŁUKASZEWSKI (b.1968)
Ostatni List Świętego Maksymiliana Do Matki (The Final Letter of St. Maksymilian Kolbe) [6:10]
Henryk Mikołaj GÓRECKI (1933-2010)
Plesni Maryjne, Op. 54 (Marian Songs): IV. Ach, Jak Smutne Jest Rozstanie (Oh, How Sorrowful The Parting). [4:54]
Three Lullabies, Op. 49, I. Usnijze Mi, Usnij (Sleep Now, Sleep) [2:39]
Totus Tuus [8:15]
Eriks ESENVALDS (b.1977)
The Heaven's Flock [4:31]
Vytautas MISKINS (b. 1954)
Missa Brevis [18:30]
Exeter College Chapel Choir/Bartosz R Thiede, James A Short (organ)
rec. 2018, Exeter College Chapel, Oxford
CHORUM CHORC519 [46:00]

Bartosz Rafal Thiede was organ scholar at Exeter College Oxford from 2015 until 2018. It is a Chapel that I know well from my times in Oxford and was excited about hearing this unusual collection of choral music. Thiede explains that curating the music for his new album, Mater Mundi, was a long process which developed very organically. In front of him he had the success of the Christmas disc On Christmas Night which was very positively reviewed by Marc Rochester and Curtis Rogers (review). He did not want to record just another disc of ‘Evensong’ music for the sake of recording a disc during his final year as Organ Scholar at Exeter College. Marc Rochester praised Thiede as “In many ways the unsung hero of the recording …. His accompaniments, especially in the three Rütti carols, are magnificent both in their subtlety and the wonderful way in which he falls in with Muggeridge’s precisely clipped direction. He also delivers the complex organ writing of Whitbourn’s distinctly Mathias-like “Hodie” with perfectly-nuanced virtuosity”. Thiede goes on to explain that what made his time at Exeter so enjoyable was “the artistic and musical freedom that he had at his disposal. A completely unique set-up which is not replicated with such quality anywhere in the UK. Being able to mould and collaborate with a choir of incredibly talented twenty-odd-year-olds (with their incredibly vibrant sound) was such a privilege …”. Being a Northern Irish-Pole who came to Oxford via Bristol, Thiede decided on a track-list that centres around notions of Marian devotion. These reflect external pious practices directed to the person of Mary, mother of Jesus by members of certain Christian traditions and identities.

Some of these works are well known, “Ubi Caritas” was on Chandos’s “Northern Lights” CD which was reviewed by John Quinn. He also featured on a Decca recital, again reviewed by Marc Rochester. “The Heavens Flock” was reviewed by John Quinn on a Naxos disc of works by Eriks Esenvalds. The present album was set down over a period of just over a week during a cold and wet January. A number of tracks are sung in Polish by people who have never spoken a word of Polish in their life. The choir are probably to be congratulated on their mastery of a foreign tongue and sing this largely very melodic and meditative selection with great empathy and prowess. It is an album that draws the mind into contemplation of higher thoughts and seems very apt in these sad and challenging times.

After the Gjeilo, there is the remarkable “Ostatni List” by Łukaszewski. It is based on an intensely moving letter written from Auschwitz by Saint Maximilian Kolbe to his mother. I should say that both the words and translations of all texts are included. Gorecki’s “O how sorrowful the parting” is an effective setting on a Marian text and the aforementioned “The Heaven’s Flock” is another piece, I’m very glad to encounter.

The mass-setting celebrates the admission of women sopranos and altos into Exeter College Chapel Choir in 1996. I recall the debates on these issues well this is a fine example of old and new choral traditions co-existing. The “Missa Brevis” by Vytautas Miskins may be slightly unusual but as someone who had the privilege of hearing weekly sung Eucharist’s at Christ Church Oxford, I thought this a fine work. A favourite track from the mass-setting has to be the Benedictus. It is incredibly fun and in places sports a ‘funky’ alto line. I also find the “Agnus Dei” beautiful and profound. The disc ends with a supreme example of Marian devotion: “Totus Tuus” by Gorecki. Some of the spirit of his famous “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” is present here. Again, it is beautifully and clearly sung. I notice that this piece has been recorded quite a few times and reviews can be found on this site. Some versions take considerably longer but the pacing here is ideal.

Bartosz R Thiede hopes that this album will introduce those kind enough to listen to at least one track that they were not familiar with. If you find a track you have particularly enjoyed, please let him know. I was particularly taken by the Łukaszewski, The Mass and the final Gorecki. When I want quiet contemplation and to be taken back to Oxford, via Poland, I will reach for this disc. Throughout, as well as the splendid choir, there is fine organ playing by James A Short. I look forward to seeing Thiede progress; meanwhile here is a fine statement of his time at Exeter College Oxford.

David R Dunsmore

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