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Józef Michał Poniatowski (1816-1873)
Mass in F
Olesya Bubela (soprano), Tetyana Vakhnovska (mezzosoprano), Andrii Vozian (tenor), Viktor Yankovsskyi (baritone)
Galician Chamber Choir
Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra/Sebastian Perłowski
Recording details not provided.
DUX 1830 [41]

Sometimes it takes a while to come to terms with a recording. I have changed my mind several times about the merits of this one. It is interesting for a variety of reasons but not, I think, an essential one. At the same time, it fills a gap in the recorded repertoire. There are evident masterpieces in the late 19th Century repertoire of Masses, but many more fine works pass under the radar. I have a special affection for the works of the Brixen-based Ignaz Itterer (1850-1924), composer of some 45 masses. While Poniatowski does not appeal to me so much, I have found much here to appreciate.

Prince Józef Michał Poniatowski, grand-nephew of the last King of Poland, can only be described as Polish by heredity, not by residence. He was born in exile in Rome, and grew up there. He learned music largely from a priest, first performing in public at the age of 8. His Italianate operas, twelve in all, were performed quite widely in France and in various Italian cities. He was also a diplomat of distinction, appointed by Leopold II as plenipotentiary to France, Belgium and England, based in Paris. In 1854 he became a French citizen, a senator, and a close friend of Napoleon III. He combined the writing and conducting of operas with his work as a French diplomat. When Napoleon went into exile, Poniatowski joined him in England.He died in Chiselhurst (not London, as the notes say), where he is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church.

His single Mass seems to have been the consequence of genuine religious feeling. Its sound-world recalls Donizetti, Rossini – who admired Poniatowski’s work – and a touch of Handel in the choruses. In parts theatrical, and certainly enjoyable, it perhaps lacks a truly distinctive voice of its own. One difficulty is that the mass was originally written for solo voices with choir and organ or piano accompaniment. The present arrangement by Maciej Jabłoński and Sebastian Perłowski, inspired by Rossini and Berlioz, was premiered in Kraków in 2015. The argument in favour of this arrangement is that Poniatowski’s style was overwhelmingly orchestral. Certainly, the arrangement is tasteful and sometimes powerful, and the revised accompaniment never overwhelms the sung lines. There is attractive writing for brass, for instance, but the purist in me yearns to hear the work in its original form.

The Mass has the usual elements, with the Sanctus which includes the Benedictus, but adds two elements. After the Sanctus, the hymn O Salutaris Hostia, normally the opening hymn at Benediction, is inserted, for reasons not entirely clear. I can find no record of this as a 19th Century practice, and can recall no other examples. Also, Poniatowski includes a final two-minute Amen as an addition to the text of the Mass, not found in either traditional or modern missals.

All movements except the Agnus Dei (Adagio) have maestoso markings. The maestoso is in the style of Rossini rather than more weighty composers, and there is variety both within and across movements.

Performances are enthusiastic, but recording quality is a little cloudy in places – that, and some instrumental lapses, suggest a live recording. The absence of recording details is unfortunate. One might initially be disconcerted by the Eastern-European Latin pronunciations of both choir and soloists. That can hardly be cause for complaint given that the Romans neglected to leave any recordings of their voices; there also are distinctions even in the United Kingdom in the pronunciations of Roman Catholics compared with Anglicans, and between Church Latin and classicists.

An interesting release, and a useful addition to the catalogue of recorded Polish music.

Michael Wilkinson

Published: October 14, 2022

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