Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Don’t be alarmed. The sound you hear at this disc’s opening is not a flaw in your sound system: it’s rattles. The rattles are a symbol of “both death and hope” that colors the music of the Polish Good Friday liturgy. This very thoughtfully programmed disc, beautifully performed by both voices and instruments, presents a variety of chants, solo and harmonized songs, hymns, and lamentations known as “planctus” that give us a fine introduction to church music typical of 15th and 16th century Polish Lenten services. The singers from the Collegium Vocale Bydgoszcz, and the early instruments–mazanki (early Polish violin), pozytyw (chamber organ), harfa gotycka (Gothic harp), recorder, sackbut, gemshorn, and of course, rattles, all performed by members of Ars Nova–are extremely well matched, and the particular combinations of voices and instruments invariably enhance the songs’ textual/expressive concerns while ensuring melodic prominence where required. At one point, the text of a song is chanted against a droning hurdy-gurdy background by actress/singer Teresa Budzisz-Krzyzanowska; at another, following an eerie dialogue between two gemshorns, she recites the Polish text of The Holy Cross Lament: Listen Dear Brethren. The effect of her voice, the instruments, and the ambience of the Warsaw church where this recording was made in 1996 is affecting and very well captured by the masterful engineering. The program ends with a hymn set to a German song whose title (We Vile Sinners), open harmony, and bouncy rhythmic character is reminiscent of later early American hymns. This is a superbly produced and well-thought-out program that will please–and pleasantly surprise–listeners who enjoy early liturgical music. [9/23/2005]

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Recording Details:


Lenten music by various composers from 15th and 16th century Poland -

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