CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Briefly Noted: Polish Farewells (CD of the Month)

available at Amazon
Polish Songs, Jakub Józef Orliński, Michał Biel

(released on May 6, 2022)
Erato 0190296269714 | 57'14"
Not surprisingly, countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński has recorded largely Baroque music, often in partnership with the historically informed performance ensemble Il Pomo d'Oro. For this new album, the Polish singer has partnered with Polish pianist Michał Biel, his longtime friend from their student days in Warsaw and at the Juilliard School. The program is the fruit of their collaboration in song recital repertory by more recent Polish composers, all from the last 150 years, recorded in September 2021 at the Nowa Miodowa Concert Hall in Warsaw.

Some of these composers may be familiar, particularly Karol Szymanowski, although his Songs from Kurpie may not be. The words are folk texts collected by Władysław Skierkowski, a musician and priest who died in 1941 in the Soldau concentration camp. His book, The Kurpian Forest in Song, is based on his time during World War I hiding in the swampy forests of Poland's Kurpie region. Szymanowski composed beautiful musical settings for these often cryptic texts, a sort of Polish counterpart to Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs. Orliński gives the folk-style cantillation a natural ease of bends and blue notes. In the beautiful bird song (no. 2) his voice reaches effortlessly up to high E.

The other composers are less known outside of Poland and yield fascinating discoveries. Henryk Czyż (1923-2003) may be better known as a conductor, especially for his championing of the music of Penderecki in many recordings. He was also a gifted composer, on display in Pożegnania (Farewells), a set of three gorgeous songs on Pushkin poems translated into Polish by Julian Tuwim. The style is unabashedly Straussian, with lush chromatic turns similar to the delectable music of Joseph Marx. Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981) contributes four songs on Shakespeare sonnets translated into Polish, in a pretty, neoclassical style but perhaps with serial techniques underlying it. As a teenager Baird did a period as a forced laborer for the Nazis, eventually surviving internment in a concentration camp. The last of these songs is somber and gorgeous, and Orliński plies his silken voice to the sighed downward portamenti.

Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909) is represented by the largest number of songs, a dozen rather short piece, drawn mostly from two sets. His style is late Romantic and poignant, akin to Tchaikovsky, whom he admired. Some are especially fine, as the slow, aching melody of "Na spokojnym, ciemnym morzu." Sadly, Karłowicz died young, a victim of an avalanche while skiing in the Tatra Mountains. The only living composer included on this disc, Paweł Łukaszewski (b. 1968), has one song, "Jesień" (Autumn), on a striking text by Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska, the "Polish Sappho" active in the years between the two world wars. One hears the autumn rain falling in the long piano introduction, slowly dripping with splashing dissonances rebounding, just one example of Biel's sensitive work at the piano. The stark vocal writing features odd, jagged intervals, humming, portamenti, and other austere effects. The program concludes with two songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872), often described as the "father of Polish opera."

No comments: