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Reviewed, Not Necessarily Recommended: Masses by Stanisław Moniuszko

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Moniuszko, Masses, Wojnarowski / Warsaw Phil.Chorus
DUX 0657 (76:42)
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Moniuszko, String Quartets, Camerata Quartet
DUX 0561
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was born near Minsk (Polish territory at the time), grew up in Warsaw (then de-facto Russian), and studied in Berlin (capitol of the Prussian Province of Brandenburg). Especially because of his (Polish) patriotic-nationalist sentiment of his music—especially his operas, he became the national Polish composer and remains so to this day. Only Karol Szyamnowski and the ‘lost son’ Fryderyk Chopin share a similarly high level of popularity. Moniuszko would make for an excellent introduction to a college primer on “Central European History in the 19th Century”, but the Polish record company DUX—wisely—focuses on his music, instead.

So far issued are songs of Moniuszko, his two String Quartets, and two of his ten Operas. To that, DUX adds here three masses for organ and chorus: the Latin Mass in D (1870), the Funeral Mass in G minor (1871), and the Polish St.Peter’s Mass in B (1871). The works, composed to “enrich, strengthen, console”, vacillate between Mozartean beauty and romanticized kitsch, but for most of their duration the music stays on the sheerly beautiful, not shallow, side of things. (And, I suppose, how to praise God, if not through beauty.) The D Kyrie (“Ky-rie” sung bisyllabic to match the alternating “Christe eleisons”) and the Funeral Mass’ Offertorium are high-points; how Moniuszko writes for two intertwining female voices—especially in the St.Peter’s Mass’ Benedictus—is wonderful to listen to. The Requiem Eternam dabbles prettily: romantic chill-out with a sacred veneer.

None of the soloists, native Polish speakers, show real weaknesses (except, perhaps, the nasal tenor), the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir—directed by Henryk Wojnarowski—navigates ably through the simple scores. The Polish Mass, which should be ideally suited for boys choir (with low voices), is as simple as the other two masses, though not as immediately appealing apart from the aforementioned Benedictus. None of this is great music, but whether heard in church service or on CD, it is music that could and can be easily appreciated. If that doesn’t amount to making this a spectacular disc, it still makes it a beautiful one. Most especially because of the Latin Mass. Easily recommended to those who like romantic sacred music while being able to forgo (Verdiesque) bombast. The greatest effect it had on me—except for moments of extreme relaxation in rush-hour metro traffic—was a now awakened, very strong curiosity for his string quartets.

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