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Marcin Józef ŻEBROWSKI (fl.1748-1780)
Rorate coeli [3:43]
Magnificat [29:44]
Missa Pastoritia [25:01]
Jian Hui Mo (treble): Matthew Venner (counter-tenor): Maciej Gocman (tenor): Felix Schwandtke (bass)
NFM Choir, NFM Boys’ Choir
Wrocław Baroque Orchestra/Andrzej Kosendiak
rec. 2018, Concert Hall of the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Pomeranian Philharmonic, live recording.
Texts and translations included
CD ACCORD ACD258-2 [59:39]

Biographical details are scanty when it comes to the Polish composer Marcin Jozef Żebrowski. His year of birth seems lost but it’s known that he died in 1780. It’s also known that he was a member of the chapel at the Monastery in Czestochowa, where he sang, played the violin, taught and composed. Other than that, detail is frustratingly sparse. As to where or with whom he studied, how far he travelled, if at all, we know next to nothing. Even the specific dates of composition of the liturgical works in this disc are unknown.

The status of the monastery was elevated when the image of the Black Madonna – an excellent colour reproduction is included in the book-style documentation – was crowned by papal bull in October 1717 and a cult established. Clearly music would have a function in exalting the monastery yet further. And at the time of composition of this Magnificat, vespers performed on Sundays ranked higher than works written for High Mass, so it was incumbent on Żebrowski to write a work of grandeur, breadth and consequence. That he duly did, casting it in eleven sections, formally laid out, with plentiful roles for solo arias, a duet, and choruses.

The abiding influence is the prevailing Italianate one. This is a work predicated on the galant style and it’s a successful one, with well sprung rhythms, roles for lithe strings, echo phrases, a prominent lute, and clever employment of brass and generous use of winds – oboes in this case. A high point is the rather pomposo brass role in the Fecit potentiam where the bass Felix Schwandtke accommodates their concertante pretensions well, his sonorous and accurate divisions going very well indeed. The quasi-operatic nature of the entwining treble and counter-tenor duet Deposuit potentes is also attractive.

The programme actually begins with Rorate coeli, a Marian Introit of a votive Mass. If it can be dated at all, the suggestion outlined in the fine booklet notes is some point around 1752.Its vitality and vigorous suggest Żebrowski’s athletic approach to his material

Missa Pastoritia is one of only four of his masses to have survived. It’s quite a dramatic, pastoral-celebratory work. Of the two large works in this disc it’s the one that shows any signs of the composer’s nationality, given that it encodes little dance and drone effects; these elements are not over-balancing but serve to widen the sonic and colouristic drama of the work. Confidently handled, with zesty brass figures once again, there’s a rather beautiful chorus at the heart of the Mass, Et incarantus est and for further evidence of his Imagination , there is a decorative role for the solo violin for concertmaster Zbigniew Pilch in the Benedictus, where treble Jian Hui Mo shines. Decisive whoops of appreciation rather startlingly break out from the audience at the end of the work.

These worthwhile restorations are housed in an impressively robust gold book-like arrangement, complete with texts and translations. Given that this was a live concert a certain number of imprecisions are almost inevitable; it’s not clear if there were patching sessions but from the single date it appears not. The four singers are sympathetic; the English boy treble Jian Hui Mo sings attractively, his compatriot, the counter-tenor Matthew Venner, rather less steadily; tenor Maciej Gocman is the only Pole and is efficient but Schwandtke is the most authoritative singer. The orchestra and chorus are well marshalled by Andrzej Kosendiak.

Jonathan Woolf

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