Mikolaj GOMÓLKA (c. 1535 – after 1591)
(Psalms of the Golden Age) Arrangements: Fernando Reyes
Paulina Ceremuzynska (soprano), Fernando Reyes (vihuela, Renaissance guitar), Carlos Castro (percussion)
rec. 2014, Witold Lutoslawski Concert Hall of the Polish Radio
Sung texts with English translations provided
ACCORD ACD214-2 [60:23]
“Melodies for the Polish Psalter” by Mikolai Gomólka is a collection of 150 four-voice settings of Jan Kochanowski’s translations of the Book of Psalms. It is regarded as one of the most important works of Polish culture. Here are various musical forms of the 16th century and there are examples of popular dances of the period. The scores could be interpreted in many ways: for several voices and accompanying instruments or for a single voice with accompaniment. Here they are performed by a solo soprano, Paulina Ceremuzynska, accompanied by vihuela or Renaissance guitar and often various percussion instruments. There are three psalms that are purely instrumental and arranger Fernando Reyes, who also plays the plucked instruments has ensured that there is a lot of variety.
Ms Ceremuzynska has a rather thin, vibratoless voice with limited dynamic scope, but she can be quite expressive at times and one gets used to it. The instruments are modern but the guitar is a copy of Belchior Dias guitar from 1580 and thus authentic. The percussion instruments are employed for the more dance influenced psalms. Most of the pieces are fairly short, 3 – 4 minutes, but Psalm 77, To thee my crying call, is more than 8 minutes long. Psalm 7, O Lord, my God, thou art my trusfull stay (tr. 9) is a fascinating and dramatic work. It opens with a threatening bass drum, followed by the plucked instrument and throughout the piece the drum and other percussion instruments are commenting to the text. The voice occasionally adds some drama, too.
The psalms are strophic but there is variation through inventive use of the instruments. The last three psalms were no doubt the ones that left the strongest impressions. Psalm 33, Rejoyce in God, o ye that righteous be, which is instrumental, made me sit up and prick up my ears; the jubilant Psalm 29, Ascribe unto the Lord of light, radiated real bliss; and the final number: All people, to Jehovah bring is truly life-enhancing with enthusiastic hand-clapping backing up the guitar and the singing.
The Psalms are sung in Polish and there seems to be a continuity between 16th century Polish and modern-day Polish, which makes it possible for native-speaking Poles to understand the old texts. The greatest differences are, according to the quite extensive liner notes, the pronunciation of the vowels. In Old Polish there were more of them than in standard Polish of today. With not even rudimentary knowledge of Polish I had great difficulties to understand the differences but am happy to have learnt that they are not unsurmountable for a present-day Pole.
I would say that this issue is aimed more at listeners with an interest in Renaissance church music than the general public but, that said, I’m sure not only specialists can derive a lot of pleasure from this historically important recording.