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Marian SAWA (1937-2005)
Sequence I, “Dies irae” (1996) [11:44]
Resurrection (1975) [6:53]
Aria (1971) [7:17]
Passacaglia (2005) [9:51]
Three Dances in Old Style (1998) [5:39]
Suite (1980) [15:39]
Fantazja Jasnogórska (1996) [6:26]
Łomza Prayer (2004) [5:39]
Sequence II, “Victimae paschali laudes” (1996) [7:04]
Carson Cooman (organ)
rec. 2020/21, Propsteikirche St. Ludgerus, Billerbeck, Germany
DIVINE ART DDA25219 [76:18]

Marian Sawa’s prolific output includes much religious music, including his De Profundis (review), but he also composed secular pieces such as Etudes (review). Sawa was and still is highly regarded in Poland, especially in organ circles, with an active Marian Sawa Society set up in 2006. Sawa’s style is neatly summed up in the booklet text for this CD: “Building in a modernist manner on the Polish romantic musical tradition...Sawa [integrated] fragments and phrases from Polish church hymns and folk music into works of serious concert music. Sawa’s personal style thus draws strongly on traditional Polish music and Gregorian chant; to this is added influences from the Polish avant-garde, including block formal structures, cluster harmonies, and improvisatory ideas of developing variation.”

This programme opens impressively with the stern and somewhat forbidding Sequence I, “Dies irae”, the famous plainchant on which the piece is based being already flagged in the title. The darkness of the text is reflected in weighty pedal tones, the plainchant melody clear but always chained down with stark harmonies and ominous counterpoint. A certain amount of light shines through in a penultimate fugato, before the mood of the opening returns in a forceful coda. Resurrection takes its narrative from Easter, from a meditative morning scene through a powerful sequence with hints of Messiaen, there are some quieter moments of counterpoint with ultimate triumph revealing itself out of a dramatic coda. The Aria has a feel of mystery about it from the outset. Its lyrical content is by no means easy, but carries an enigmatic persistence that holds its place in your memory like the atmosphere of a place rather than anything sing-along.

Passacaglia II was Sawa’s last organ work, its central repeating melody based on a 19th century Polish hymn. There are some lovely harmonisations amongst the numerous variations, and delicious cadences that might remind you of Frank Martin, the whole piece being quite uplifting. The Three Dances in Old Style form an evocation of folk music and dances from Poland though there are no direct quotes included, Sawa evidently relishing his own inventiveness while immersed in his native musical language. The Suite has five contrasting movements, alternating quieter, aria or chant-like movements with more virtuoso displays of brilliance, capped by a final toccata-like Presto. This is a substantial and enjoyable work, the relative brevity of each movement containing a wealth of material that will bring you back for more. Fantazja Jasnogórska is filled with iconic symbolism, the piece having been named for a famous image of the Black Madonna, a theme that has inspired music with an open and positive character. Old hymns are invoked, and there is a passage with bell effects from the 2014 Fleiter organ. Chosen for maximum contrast, Łomza Prayer is a meditative and gently lyrical piece, Sawa’s tunes once again expressing the voice of the organ rather than imitating anything particularly natural to the human voice. The programme concludes fittingly with Sequence II, “Victimae paschali laudes”, a more joyous counterpart to the opening “Dies irae”, being based on a proclamation sequence from the Easter Day Mass.

Organist Carson Cooman is also a composer of some distinction, and he plays all of this music with sublime musicianship and a clear affinity to Marian Sawa’s highly communicative idiom. The recording is excellent, with plenty of deep lows and resonance but also a healthy level of detail from the very fine instrument chosen for this recording. The balance between bass, midrange and treble seems ideal to my ears. Organ specification is included in the booklet. We are told that the recording has been produced via the Hauptwerk virtual system, but whatever virtual jiggery-pokery has been used to create the final effect I would consider the whole thing entirely convincing and natural sounding. I was unaware of Marian Sawa’s organ music until encountering this recording, and consider myself enriched by the experience. There are few enough contemporary organ composers who have such a distinctive personal voice. Marian Sawa is most certainly among their number, and one with plenty to say and plenty of musical substance to back up the prolific nature of his output.

Dominy Clements



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