The Sixteen are a choir and orchestra formation, famous for their early music performances. Since their formation in the seventies, they have achieved world renown on the baroque music scene.
They have performed on the most important stages of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Their recordings have won awards including a Gramophone Award, a Grammy, the French Grand Prix du Disque, and the German critics’ prize, Schallplattenkritik. Since 2001, they have released music under their own label, CORO. After recording Palestrina, Monteverdi, Bach and other great masters, it is time for Bartłomiej Pękiel - composer at the court of the Vasas. And this is only the beginning of The Sixteen's adventure with Polish Baroque.
The Sixteen's new disc contains creations by Bartłomiej Pękiel, whose date and place of birth are not known and who died around 1670. "This is our first venture into the world of Polish Baroque", says Eamonn Dougan, associate conductor of the ensemble. "This album shows the variety and freshness of Pękiel's composition. We decided to start a series of his works because of the breath of freshness present in his music."
Pękiel worked at the court of King Władysław IV Vasa. There are different spellings in the manuscripts at Wawel Castle in Kraków: Pekel, Peckel, Pekell. He was an organist, then Vice-Kapellmeister under the Italian maestro Marco Scacchi. After the Swedish army occupied Warsaw in 1655, he resettled in Kraków along with the royalty. He was a conductor at the Wawel Cathedral - the first maestro di cappella who was not Italian.
The Sixteen's CD includes excerpts from Pękiel's creation, songs from the years 1633-1670. ''What was most interesting to discover in this music is that some moments seem to be very characteristic of Pękiel's work", says Dougan" - at times harmonies are really amazing, they remind us of the work Montiverdi or Gabrieli".
The most outstanding track of the CD is Missa Concertata La Lombardesca for two choirs, violin and trombone. One of Pękiel's most famous masses, it probably originated in Warsaw before the war with Sweden. ''This exquisite piece has a very rich texture and wide instrumentation. It gives us a good idea of the creative opportunities Pękiel had during his time in Warsaw", says Dougan.
In musicologist Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska's words:
This is one of the finest examples of implementation of the concerto grosso technique; alongside choral sections, it contains passages performed by solo singers and duets, as well as instrumental pieces. The five-part cycle of the mass unites the melodic material presented at the beginning of each section.
Other noteworthy compositions are Audite Mortales and Dulcis Amor Jesu. Audite Mortales is the first known example of dialogue oratorio in Polish music. Pękiel's solo sections are juxtaposed with excerpts sung collectively: duets, trios and sextets. For the conductor of The Sixteen, the song is remindful of the work of Giacomo Carissimi, an Italian composer. In the booklet accompanying the disc, Zofia Dobrzańska-Fabiańska describes Dulcis Amor Jesu:
The voices in the vocal ensemble (two sopranos, alto, tenor and bass - a typical late Renaissance madrigal scoring) change constantly. Thematic phrases, short motifs or melody and counter-melody are carried from voice to voice, as well as from higher to lower register (or the reverse) in a single part. [...] These textural and melodic techniques bring an extraordinary expressiveness to the concerto, which should be regarded as an example of stile madrigalesco in religious music.
This CD dedicated to the work of Bartłomiej Pękiel kicks off a new series of publications under the CORO label, in cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and Polska Music.
A mere week after its premiere, the album was already featured in the prestigious British Specialist Classical Chart. Pękiel’s music piqued the interest of many reviewers, among others in BBC Music Magazine, Early Music Review, Gramophone, and in the blog of critic Remy Franck.
Franck writes: the recording makes us discover of the sacred work of a Polish composer, Bartlomiej Pekiel (? -1670), Which, admittedly, is totally unknown to us. His expressive range is very wide (...) and his syntax is brief but concise: often avoiding long developments, it juxtaposes refinement with contrasting episodes, giving the music its constant turmoil while letting the liturgy evolve smoothly, without rushing it.
Malcom Riley writes in Gramophone that:
This craftsman’s masterful music is presented here with an assured charisma by the mighty Sixteen (expanded to 17 singers for the beautiful extended dramatic scena Audite mortales – the undoubted highlight of the programme). Their associate conductor, Eamonn Dougan, draws typically golden performances from his vocalists and mixed instrumental ensemble. Of the latter, David Miller and Frances Kelly (on theorbo and harp respectively) provide filigree decorations. The trio of sackbuts blends seamlessly into the counterpoint of the extended Kyrie of the Missa concertata ‘La Lombardesca’, with its delightful circles-of-fifths progressions. Throughout the Mass, Pękiel weaves a constantly shifting array of textures from his double choir, soloists and ‘band’.
Translation: LB, 06/06/2013, updated August 2013