Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Music from the Polish baroque - Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki - Coro
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki Missa Rorate, Conductus Funebris, motets; The Sixteen, Eamonn Dougan; Coro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 28 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Worth exploring - music from the late baroque in Poland

I had not heard of Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki either, but was intrigued when I saw his name emblazoned on the third of Eamonn Dougan's CD's of Polish renaissance and baroque music on the Coro label with The Sixteen. Gorczycki (1665-1734) is one of the major late baroque composer in Poland and the reason why we have not heard of him is the historical accident of what happened to his music. It is recent scholarship that has opened up his oeuvre, and on this disc we have a wide selection of music that he wrote for the Cathedral and other churches in Krakow where he was a priest. On this disc Dougan conducts The Sixteen, both choir and orchestra, in a mixture of a cappella and accompanied works, In virtute tua Domine, O Rex gloriae domine, Illuxit sol, Missa Roratei, Conductus Funebris, Sepulto Domino and Litania de Providentia divina.

Eamonn Dougan - photo credit Will Unwin
Eamonn Dougan - photo credit Will Unwin
Like most of his contemporaries Gorcycki wrote works in both the unaccompanied antique style, Prima practica, and vocal-instrumental works in seconda practica. The former are reserved in the archive in Krakow and came back into currency in the 19th century, thus giving Gorczycki a rather old-fashioned air. It is only since the Second World War that the extent of Gorczycki's vocal instrumental works have become apparent, giving us a more rounded view of his achievements.

The disc opens with the anonymous bugle call which is traditionally played from the tower of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Krakow. Next comes In virtute tue Domina for choir, two violins and organ, to which a later hand has added two lovely high trumpet parts. More a church concerto than a motet, it mixes instrumental, solo and choral sections using the text of the offertory. This is followed by the a cappella motet, O Rex gloriae which sets the text of the antiphon to the Magnificat for Ascension.

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki
Illuxit sol is another work for choir and instrumental ensemble (violins and organ), setting a paraphrase of St Paul's Epistle to the Romans. A perky instrumental prelude leads to a lively interaction between choir and solos, in four distinct sections.

 With Missa Rorate we return to prima pratica, in a rather traditional unaccompanied mass setting which is performed with a set of propers, also by Gorczycki. In fact the ordinary is set for SATB whilst the propers are ATTB. The Kyrie has Gregorian chant as its cantus firmus whilst the other movements of the Ordinary are based on popular Advent songs. The work is pleasantly melodic, and harmonically by no means as old-fashioned as its structure might suggest. Certainly it would seem a work highly suitable for modern liturgical performance.

Gorczycki's Conductus funebris is a larger scale work for choir and orchestra (strings, trumpets and organ) setting four movements from the funeral service, two responsories Subvenite Sancti Dei and Libera me, Domine and two antiphons In paradisum and Salve Regina, though the movements can also be performed separately. It was probably written for the funeral of King Augustus II  (Augustus the Strong) in 1733 and is a lyrical and gravely beautiful work which shows you what Gorczycki could do when working on a larger scale using seconda practica.

The three towers of Wawel Cathedral, Krakow
The three towers of
Wawel Cathedral,
Next comes another shorter unaccompanied work Sepulto domino which was written for Eastertide. And finally Litania de Providentia, a longer work which dates from 1726 and uses the biggest forces of any of Gorczycki's surviving works. The Litany setting is divided into seven movements and starts in quite grand fashion (think early Mozart litanies) again with Gorczycki's familiar lyrical feel. Less than 10 minutes long, it manages to pack quite a bit in and is definitely a work to be re-discovered.

This is not the first time on disc for Gorczycki's music, but certainly the Sixteen's exploration of his music will hopefully open up his work to a far larger audience. This new disc comes complete with full texts and a long and illuminating article about the composer and his time in Krakow during an eventful period in the area's history.

This is a fascinating and intriguing disc, revealing a wealth of music was has so far been unknown or ignored. Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki might not be quite a lost genius, but his music has remarkable power and range, and certainly warrants further exploration. The performances from Eamonn Dougan and the Sixteen are poised and engaging, they seem to be clearly taken with this repertoire and the disc comes over as much more than a dutiful dusting off of old material. This Polish series from Eamonn Dougann and the Sixteen is highly valuable and an imaginative contribution to the repertoire. Let us hope that they have more gems where these come from.

Anon - Hejnal mariacki [0.32]
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c1665-1734) - In virtute tua Domine [4.50]
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c1665-1734) - O Rex gloriae, Domine [0.58]
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c1665-1734) - Illuxit sol [5.18]
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c1665-1734) - Missa Rorate [24.52]
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c1665-1734) - Conductus Funebris [18.52]
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c1665-1734) - Sepulto Domino [2.24]
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c1665-1734) - Litania de Providentia Divina [9.47]
The Sixteen
Eamonn Dougan (conductor)
Recorded 24-27 November 2014, St Augustine's Church, Kilburn.
CORO COR16130 1CD [68.02]

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