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Contemporary carillon ANA016

Contemporary Carillon
Elżbieta SIKORA (b. 1943)
Running North (2020) [19:12]
Aleksander NOWAK (b. 1979)
Three Callings (2019) [11:13]
Zygmunt KRAUZE (b. 1938)
Reveille (2021) [4:54]
Paweł MYKIETYN (b. 1971)
STOP (2020) [7:53]
Agata ZUBEL (b. 1978)
Memory of Bronze (2021) [16:09]
Monika Kaźmierczak (carillon)
rec. April 2021, St Catherine’s Church & Main Town Hall, Gdańsk, Poland.
ANAKLASIS ANA016 [59:37]

I was interested to read in the PR text for this release that the carillon - a set of at least 23 tower bells activated by means of a special keyboard - “still appears to be an exotic instrument and its potential largely remains unrecognised” in Poland. I live in the Netherlands and carillons are common here as well, but it is true that the majority of music played on them consists of arrangements of popular tunes aimed at ‘the person in the street’ who probably barely realises that there is an actual person up in the tower performing live. Monika Kaźmierczak, D.M.A., graduate of the Gdańsk Academy of Music and the Netherlands Carillon School in Amersfoort, is a promoter of carillon culture and is carillonneur in the city of Gdańsk. Having for an all too brief period moved in carillon circles in the Netherlands and with a few published pieces for this ‘exotic instrument’ to my name, I maintain an interest in new music for a medium that is simultaneously extremely public, and indeed rarely given its due profile when it comes to new music and the establishing of a lively contemporary tradition.

Elżbieta Sikora’s Running North was written as a celebration of 50 years of the Museum of Gdańsk. This is an extended piece in eight movements, alternating “music from afar” with sounds that “sparkle and tempt with a beauty like the song of the sirens.” The sea, and the Baltic Sea in particular is a theme running through the work, with a personal commentary which includes running away from fate and oneself, from evil and war. The music is written in free rhythm, the flow of the notes and the tempi allowed to undulate, giving the whole an improvisatory feel. There are moments of note cluster intensity such as in the Interlude towards the end of the piece, but enigmatic tonalities drift, become concrete and then dissipate in sounds that are more poetic than lyrical, but in the end have a magnetic appeal.

Aleksander Nowak’s Three Callings commemorates the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II. This was composed for the Town Hall carillion, which has an archaic meantone temperament that adds its own strangeness of character to the sound. This carillon has its own history, once having been used to mark the structure of each day in the city. Repeated notes conjure this sense of announcement and signalling, but there are also moments of tension and drama as each of the three movements develop their own narrative arc with rising and falling note patterns. Zygmunt Krauze’s Reveille or ‘awakening’ has as its message “a call to be vigilant, to change and sober up, look at oneself and the world around us from a new perspective.” There are three short movements, with a quote from a 16th century songbook at the quieter heart of the piece, and outer movements that are more edgy, and a tolling low C as a final memento.

Paweł Mykietyn’s STOP was composed for the 40th anniversary of the Gdańsk Agreement, with the title expressing the “possibly naïve dream of good winning over evil.” Described in the booklet as “a ritual in sound”, this is a piece that circles around chiming patterns and repeated notes, its tempo accelerating and decelerating with a trance-like effect. Finally, Agata Zubel’s Memory of Bronze takes us back to the quieter and richer tones of the tower St Catherine’s in a piece that reflects on the history of a location that has been burnt down and rebuilt numerous times. Zubel’s exploratory idiom creates an intriguing soundscape with its own ‘free-flowing’ nature, taking us beyond the conventionality of melodic themes and typical structures.

Carillons are tricky to record well, but this CD gives a good impression of each instrument without losing their outdoor atmosphere, and avoiding distortion at peak sound levels. There is indeed a certain amount of birdsong and other sounds captured with the pieces that come from the Town Hall, but this all adds to the feeling of being in the location as you listen. The bells of Gdańsk have their own stories to tell, and recordings such as this one show that they have a rich future as well as an extensive and eventful past.

Dominy Clements

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