Sunday, July 23, 2017

The NFM Choir (Poland) performs a concert of Polish a-cappella liturgical and secular music in Jerusalem

Photo: Maxim Reider
On July 13th 2017, the National Forum of Music Choir (Wrocław, Poland) artistic director Agnieszka Frankow-Żelazny, the visiting choir of the Choral Fantasy Festival, performed a concert of Polish music at St. Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem. The 20 singers were conducted by their artistic director Agnieszka Frankow-Żelazny.
The first part of the program featured sacred Polish music by composers born in- or writing in the 20th century. Texts were sung in Latin, Polish , with one work in Russian. The choir brought out the synthesis of early traditional influences and modern compositional styles apparent in this new surge of liturgical music, with its predilection for sonority - tone color. A bold example of this was Andrzej Koszewski’s (1922-2015) setting of the “Miserere”, in which the work’s development follows that of the text, opening with low, dark clusters which then brighten, soaring into vibrant intensity. “Beatus vir” of Miłosz  Bembinow (b.1978) opens with the choir’s splendid timbral blend of autumnal harmonies, concluding with a pure octave. Bembinow’s use of  the Polish text, with its distinctive consonant combinations,forms an integral element of the work’s soundscape. In Michal Zieliński’s (b.1965) modal-based “Laudate Dominum” for soprano and choir (2002), words are used as somewhat percussive rhythmic devices. Another highlight was  Marcin Tadeusz Łukaszewski’s  (b.1972) “De Profundis” (Psalm 130), its spine-chilling dark agenda and vehement moments, wrought in huge dynamic contrasts, wonderfully evoked by choir and soloist. The section of liturgical music concluded with Krzysztof Penderecki’s (b.1933) “O gloriosa Virginum” (2009), its style of passing dissonances within an otherwise diatonic/modal framework not atypical of  music of the past 20 years or so. Its antiphonal style ended with an imposing dramatic tutti declamation.
Following the intermission, the atmosphere in the hall changed from sacred to profane, as the male singers filed in singing a drone in a style that just might have been overtone singing. The song was Jacek Sykulski’s (1964) “Ice on the Prosna River”. Sykulski is a composer who constantly experiments with innovative and creative forms of expression, setting new trends in choral singing in Poland and internationally. The work has a distinctively folk-like sound, both in the singers’ vocal production and its early modal melodies, the latter supported by newer harmonies. The ensuing pieces, rich in nature descriptions, painted whimsical, playful, sometimes sad, sometimes unabashedly rough pictures of country people, of carefree leisure pastimes bristling with flirtation. Each, a small, lightweight theatrical piece, was polished and effectively performed, making for fine entertainment.

 Ms. Agnieszka Frankow-Żelazny’s direction brings together beauty of sound and precision in performance that is stylish and interesting. Her singers are all soloists, but they understand the art of vocal balance and blending. The NFM Choir’s program of Polish music, repertoire not known here, was inspiring.

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