CHOIR MUSIC FROM POLAND AND BELGIUM • Herman Engels, cond; Polish R Ch, Cracow • PHÆDRA 92072 (71:14 Text and Translation)
Music by ELSNER, FRANCK, PENDERECKI, VAN NUFFEL, NEES, TINEL, KILAR, VAN DER ROOST, DOBRZYNSKI, GÓRECKI
The rationale behind this disc seems to be that a Flemish conductor leads a Polish choir on a Belgian label. The time covered by this anthology spans most of the 19th to the 21st century, withRead more the latter pieces firmly looking backward to tradition. Its hold on our time does not include much of its major musical movements.
Thus, the first surprise on the disc is the motet by Krzysztof Penderecki, O gloriosa virginum, a surprise because it is almost completely tonal, something not always associated with those works of Penderecki we mostly know. Most of what we know comes from before the 1970s, during which decade his style began to shift toward a greater use of tonality as its organizing principle. The notes give no dates for most of the music on this disc, but this item comes from 2009. This is a side of Penderecki’s music of which we are seldom aware. In this sense, it is coherent with the Trois complaints (2007) of the Belgian composer Vic Nees, a work that completely eschews 20th-century modernism and adopts a mildly chromatic use of tonality.
The major piece on the recording is Contemplations (2003), by the contemporary Belgian composer Jan van der Roost. Despite occasional organ ruminations in distant keys, and a few choral tone clusters and ostintos, the piece for soloists, chorus, and organ is in the tradition Americans might most easily recognize from the music of, say, Morten Lauridsen.
It is a pleasure, then, to report that the most radical piece on the disc is the last one, by Henryk Górecki, Euntes ibant et flebant (They Wept as They Walked) from 1972, the same year as his Second Symphony. Dissonant responses to the text alternate with passages of simple diatonic harmony, all in a slow web of sound.
It is also a pleasure to report that the Polish Radio Choir is in good shape here. The choice of music does mean, however, that slow contemplation is the dominant musical expression and listening to this recording end to end would bury every piece but Górecki’s, especially as the choir is wrapped in a slightly cavernous acoustic. The texts have no translations.
Ave Maria for chorus & organ in E flat majorby Józef Elsner Performer:
Andrzej Bialko (Organ)
Period: Romantic Written: 1840 Venue: Church of St. Augustine and St. John the Length: 2 Minutes 10 Secs.
Domine non secundum, M 66by César Franck Performer:
Andrzej Bialko (Organ)
Period: Romantic Written: 1865; France Venue: Church of St. Augustine and St. John the Length: 3 Minutes 52 Secs.