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Władysław ŻELEŃSKI (1837-1921)
Secular Choral Works
Anna Fabrello (soprano), Beata Koska (alto), Jacek Szymański (tenor), Robert Kaczorowski (bass)
Marcin Rembowski and Bartłomiej Skrobot (horns)
Aneta Czach, Ewa Rytel (piano)
Zespół Wokalny Simultaneo/Karol Kisiel
Podkarpacki Chór Męsk/Grzegorz Oliwa
rec. February 2016, Akademia Muzycna w Gdańsku, Sala S2; May and August 2016, Centrum
Edukacyjne w Rzeszowie
Polish texts: no translations

Acte Préalable has been strongly active in the music of Władysław Żeleński. He was born near Cracow and studied there and in Prague and Paris. Back in Cracow he began a distinguished pedagogic career - succeeding Moniuszko as composition teacher - before moving to an even more distinguished position in Warsaw. He was soon back in Cracow however and was eventually to become Director of the Music Conservatoire. So, a strong academic pedigree and clearly an important teacher – his most famous pupil was Zygmunt Stojowski.

He has been best known for his choral music, though some labels of late – Hyperion included – have explored chamber music with success. This disc however returns us to Żeleński the writer for the voice and does so with a sequence of fifteen secular pieces, mostly compact, and written at different stages in his compositional life. They are largely unknown examples of his music and are heard in premiere recordings.

Pieśń myśliwska sports two hunting horns in this version for mixed choir. Originally it was written for men’s voices and four horns but the adaptation by Feliks Nowowiejski preserves its vibrant Germanic woodsman ethos well. Incidentally, his arrangement is actually for four horns in F, so this performance has halved the hunting quotient, but no harm is done. Oboja wiosna is a calm, verdant setting in which the lines expand and contract with burgeoning warmth, deeply rooted in nineteenth-century romantic procedure. A joyful, affirmative but taut Spring setting follows in the form of Preludium whereas the piano-accompanied Dobra noc is an appropriately domestic and prayerful piece, pliantly sung and enshrining a rather beautiful, meditative quality.

Humoreska is an example of a feast song, a highly jolly piece, lasting no more than 70 seconds and there’s a touch of jocular folklore about Nasza Hanka which also reveals the composer’s control of text, metre and amplitude. There’s another piano-accompanied piece in the form of Noc majowa, a reverent piece that, frustratingly (as elsewhere) remains undated in the booklet but which sounds as if it belongs stylistically to the 1870s. By contrast, Kantata na cześć Kościuszki can be specifically dated to 1910 as it was written to commemorate the dedication of monuments in Washington DC. Robert Kaczorowski deploys a big, beefy bass solo and the piano postlude is very much reminiscent of the composer’s best solo piano pieces. The deep basses of Podkarpacki Chór Męsk make their mark in Pieśń żeglarzy – a nautical celebration full of ebullient confidence. Do pracy dates from 1894 and was another commission, this time for an exhibition. At eight minutes, it hardly outstays its welcome, though that makes it the second longest piece of the fifteen. It’s a shame Żeleński here reaches for that tired trope, the academic fugato.

There are texts but no translations so your Polish had better be good to appreciate the verbal felicities of the word settings: mine isn’t and therefore this is a loss. The choral forces are on fine form and are excellently drilled and directed in a pleasing acoustic.

Jonathan Woolf

Pieśń myśliwska [5:42]
Morze [1:39]
Oboja wiosna [4:51]
Preludium [3:51]
Dobra noc [3:13]
Humoreska [1:10]
Nasza Hanka [1:43]
Biała Księżniczka [3:43]
Noc majowa op. 49 [5:39]
Kantata na cześć Kościuszki [10:29]
Pieśń żeglarzy op. 34 no. 1 [3:34]
Pobudka [2:16]
Pieśń do Wilji op. 34 no. 2 [6:29]
Kantata na cześć Józefa Szujskiego [6:03]
Do pracy [8:04]



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