Notes and Editorial Reviews
Gaudium et Spes.
. Symphony No. 2,
“Festinemus amare hominess”
Piotr Borkowski, cond;
Anna Mikolajczyk (sop);
Greg Banaszak (a-sax);
class="ARIAL12">Ravel Pn Duo; Podlasie PO &
DUX 356 (69:25
Text, no Translation)
Hommage a Edith Stein.
Jan Lukaszewski, cond;
Michal Markuszewski (org);
Jakub Garbacz (org);
Jan Bartlomiej Bokszczanin (org);
Violetta Bigos, cond;
Schola Cantorum Bialostociensis;
Waclaw Golonka (org);
DUX 367 (61:55).
. Three Carols for mixed chorus (1993). Three Carols for mixed chorus (1992–99). Four Carols for female chorus (1998). Three Carols for mixed chorus (2001).
Two Christmas Motets.
Five Carols for
female chorus (2001).
Prayer to Our Lady of Candlemas
Jan Lukaszewski, cond; Polish CCh
DUX 440 (49:57)
Text, no Translation)
The music of Polish composer Pawel Lukaszewski (b. 1968) has been, until recently, the near exclusive province of the Polish Acte Préalable label. Finding these recordings has often been a challenge—though it has become easier of late through online stores like Amazon—so for many of us who know his music, the introduction came through the good offices of Stephen Layton and Hyperion Records. There are two releases, one of Advent antiphons, Lenten motets, and other shorter choral works, and the other of the wrenchingly dramatic
. I greeted both CDs with enthusiasm in these pages in 2009 (32:3 and 33:2). Both are well worth acquiring. Little else of Lukaszewski’s music was available then to U.S. buyers other than an earlier recording of his youthful
recorded by Tenebrae (Signum) and placed on the CD between a piece by Britten and one by Lotti, a gap that the work bridged admirably. Since then, a second recording of the
, written for Layton and also included on his first Hyperion release, has appeared on Delphian from the Choir of Merton College, Oxford, and a rather disappointing recording of Lukaszewski’s Alto Saxophone Concerto, “Trinity Concerto,” has appeared on Centaur (36:2).
Therefore, it was a pleasure to learn that the Polish label DUX has entered an agreement with Naxos of America to distribute its recordings in the United States, and among the initial offerings are three new CDs: a series of recordings titled
Pawel Lukaszewski—Musica Sacra
. The three discs offer a sampling of Lukaszewski’s orchestral works, especially those with voices, several works for organ, and a cross-section of his choral writing over the last 25 years. All are informed by aspects of Lukaszewski’s passionate Roman Catholicism.
The orchestral music will come as a surprise to anyone who has heard only the Hyperion recording of Lenten and Advent works, or who thought that the violent passion of the
might be a singular reaction to the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Lukaszewski sets texts in his first two symphonies that are quite unlike that wrenching contemplation of the Stations of the Cross, but the intensity of the settings are comparable.
Gaudium et Spes
is the first of four movements of the Symphony No. 1, the “Symphony of Providence.” Each was written individually and designed to be performed either separately, as here, or collectively. This movement is a setting of a few lines of the preface to the Vatican II statement on the responsibility of the Church to the poor in the world. Anguished, with the chorus often
and Anna Mikolajczyk (the fine soprano soloist) making dramatic flights into the stratosphere, it is punctuated throughout by baleful brass exclamations and the clashing of metallic percussion, as if the composer wished to capture and embrace all their suffering in 11 minutes of vehement music.
The Symphony No. 2, “Let us hurry to love people,” begins, as does its predecessor, with an explosion of percussion and the cries of the chorus. Again, the subject is the Church’s response to humanity, though here the emphasis is on the importance of individual spiritual love in the context of the transitoriness of life. The text echoes the teachings of Pope John Paul II—to whom the work is dedicated
—as expressed in the poem
by Polish poet Father Jan Twardowski. This is most unusual love music: motoric and primitively rhythmic—at times reminiscent of Carl Orff—and then hauntingly sad, or exhausted, or exultant, and all monumentally liturgical within a symphonic structure. Frankly, the work is not easily assimilated, though it is immediately and viscerally appealing. The four-movement Sinfonietta and the
both for string orchestra, are more approachable. Though powerful works, they operate on a smaller scale: more concise, but just as emotionally labile and given to dramatic statements.
Then there are the concertos. To my surprise, this is the same recording of the “Trinity Concerto” as on the Centaur release. Greg Banaszak’s watery vibrato is just as bothersome and the work, though pleasant enough with its occasional nods to minimalism, is no more absorbing on second acquaintance. I have fewer reservations regarding the composer’s Concerto for Organ and String Orchestra, which appears on the second CD. It is aggressive in character in the outer movements and highly dramatic, with elements of Poulenc and Saint-Saens vying with insistent repetitions of small rhythmic figures. Regrettably, despite some pleasantly dulcet stretches in the contrasting central movement, it lacks the inventiveness of the choral works. The organ—treated less as a soloist than as a prominent instrument within the orchestral texture—is certainly imposing, but I wish that the composer had found something compelling to say. Perhaps concertos are not yet his forte.
choral music, however, most assuredly is, as established by the four vocal works on this disc. Three are liturgical: a chant setting of Psalm 102, an antiphonal setting for three women’s choirs of the
that incorporates a 17th-century German setting of the canticle, and a surprisingly avant-garde setting of the ninth-century
with flavorings of Bach’s BWV 229 Motet. The psalm is the lone duplication between the DUX series and the pair of Hyperion discs. Jan Lukaszewski’s Polish Chamber Choir is more Slavic in tone—here and elsewhere—while Layton’s Trinity College, Cambridge chorus exemplifies the English cathedral tradition. Both are first-rate, and the Polish chorus is remarkably accurate in the many challenging passages of the
. Violetta Bigos’ Schola Cantorum Bialostociensis, a student ensemble, presents the antiphonal lines of the
in a resonant space with glorious tone but less than perfect precision. The fourth work,
Hommage á Edith Stein
, is a touching trio of prayers in honor of the martyred German nun. The program is interspersed with a trio of organ voluntaries—reflective, ethereal, and finally benedictory—each played by a different accomplished organist.
The volume three series of Christmas carols and motets is easily the most accessible of the series; these 22 short arrangements of Polish carols and original compositions in similar style are unpretentiously charming. Surprisingly, though the pieces were composed between the ages of 20 and 33, there is not the trajectory of development one would expect, as the student works are often as distinctive as the later work. In fact, the earliest piece,
Modlitwa do Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej
(Prayer to Our Lady of Candlemas)—a remarkable work for a composer of but two decades—employs stylistic elements that are explored further but no more movingly in the later choral works in volume two. Aside from the arrangement of
), non-Polish listeners will probably not find any familiar pieces presented here, but the seasonal charm of the carols is no less potent for that.
A small complaint: the music certainly can be appreciated in the abstract, but it really would be helpful if some program notes were provided. There are biographical sketches of the performers, and the same eight pages of reviews in Polish and English in each volume, but not a word about the works themselves. Texts are provided in the first and third volume, but no translations. The official Lukaszewski website, lukaszewski.org.uk, has program notes and texts for a few of the pieces included on these three CDs, but definitely not all. Those available usually require an online translator—and some interpretive skill—as they are offered in Polish only. I hope as DUX finds an English-speaking audience through Naxos, that they will consider translating (and providing) texts as well. It’s a little late for volume four, a recording of
Missa de Maria a Magdala,
which one hopes will soon be available through our Franklin, Tennessee friends. Maybe volume five….Meanwhile, I cannot recommend these three CDs too highly to fans of contemporary choral music; and the CD of carols and motets should have an even broader appeal than that.
FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
Works on This Recording
Adagietto for orchestra by Pawel Lukaszewski
Length: 9 Minutes 25 Secs.
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