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Grzegorz Gerwazy GORCZYCKI (c.1665-1734)
Missa Rorate [20:15]
Illuxit Sol [5:06]¹
Laetatus Sum [4:17]
Completorium [23:28]
Susan Gilmour Bailey (soprano); Aldona Bartnik (soprano ¹): Matthew Venner (counter tenor): Maciej Gocman (tenor); Tomáš Král (bass)
Period Instrument Ensemble/Andrzej Kosendiak
rec. May 2012, St Peter and St Paul Church, Wrocław
Texts and English translations included
CD ACCORD ACD186 [55:36]

Familiarity with Polish composers of the late Baroque is not nearly so pronounced that one could automatically announce Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki the most illustrious native composer of his time. Polish labels have weighted their releases more in favour of the nineteenth-century and after, thus unwittingly creating a gulf - internationally speaking - in our awareness of composers such as Gorczycki.
 
He was born in or around 1665 in Rozbark near Bytom and died in 1734 in Kraków. His musical and general education was wide and varied - arts and philosophy in Prague, theology in Vienna and almost certainly music there too. He took holy orders in Kraków no later than 1690 and was a dedicated priest. He was also the Magister capellae in the city from 1698 until his death nearly forty years later and it’s specifically for his influential place in Polish liturgical music that this disc will appeal.
 
Almost all his relatively few surviving works - somewhere between 50 and 80 can be attributed to him - are of polyphonic settings of Latin texts, all composed for Wawel Cathedral in the city. The selected works all reflect an aspect of his compositional armoury. Missa Rorate is a beautiful work, a polyphonic Advent Missa brevis in stile antico. It’s this last quality that may somewhat startle. Employing cantus firmus and imitative writing in established historic fashion is one thing, but to use Polish Advent songs is another, and very welcome. Nevertheless the nature of the writing is so deliberately archaic that it makes one wonder how representative it is of his larger scale masses. An answer of sorts is provided by Completorium, a seven-movement work to texts of the Compline. Four Psalms are set as well as a hymn, a Responsory and the Canticle of Simeon. The result is a quite extensive liturgical vocal concerto, showing an excellent contrapuntal command and a canny reservation of the accompanying brass for the optimum expressive moments. The mood is essentially joyful, with considerable metrical variation and an assurance in vocal distribution.
 
The two smaller works are no less interesting. Illuxit Sol for five voices, string ensemble and basso continuo is also, in effect, a vocal concerto - though it might also be described as a cantata. Ceremonial in tone, intense where necessary, it offers a brief concertante role for the first violin. Aldona Bartnik is a highly effective soprano here. Laetatus Sum sets Psalm 122 for four voices, two violins, two trumpets and basso continuo. Appropriately, given that what is being set is ‘I Was Glad’, the music is full of joyous affirmation and the brass - natural trumpets played well by the original instrument ensemble - add to the festive air. Much overlapping and imitative vocal writing - a speciality of the composer - add to the music’s onrushing density. This brief piece may be a good place to start with Gorczycki, as it reveals his compositional gifts in a compact form.
 
All the singers make a striking and attractive contribution to the success of these performances and they and the accompanying ensemble are directed with authority by Andrzej Kosendiak.
 
Jonathan Woolf