By Philip Duffy (Tenor)
From time to time the choir engages a guest conductor, and for the Christmas concert, we’re being directed by Ewa Strusinska. She’s Polish of course, although no stranger to Manchester, as she has studied at the RNCM, directed the Hallé Youth Choir and been Assistant Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra.
Not surprisingly, then, our programme includes a number of Polish works. There’s Zieleński’s O Gloriosa Domina, Łukaszewski’s Nunc Dimittis, and Nowowiejski’s Wśród nocnej ciszy. The first two have Latin texts, but learning the correct pronunciation of the third needed some concentration and was not without some undue merriment. It’s a delightful and simple carol, very popular in Poland, arranged by a composer noted for a deep love of his fatherland. Feliks Nowowiejski was also a conductor, concert organist, and music teacher, and he died shortly after the Second World War.
Mikolaj Zielenski was organist and Kapellmeister to the primate Archbishop of Gniezno around the turn of the 17th century. His only known surviving works are two cycles of choral works which he dedicated to his Archbishop – these include offertories, communions, hymns, antiphons, a Magnificat, and several instrumental fantasias. O Gloriosa Domina is a motet in praise of the Virgin Mary, the “glorious mistress of heaven”, who of course plays a particularly prominent part in the Christmas story.
Pawel Łukaszewski is a contemporary composer, although he is often thought to be somewhat anti-modern in his composition of sacred music. Perhaps Poland’s best-known composer, Pawel, now in his forties, is not only from a musical family, but from a family of composers: his father Wojciech and his brother Marcin are both composers. Pawel is also an active performer, notably as the artistic director and conductor of Warsaw’s Musica Sacra choir. His Nunc Dimittis was written for the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge in 2007. It features the familiar words from Luke’s gospel of Simeon, the old priest of the temple, holding the child Jesus in his arms, and set by Łukaszewski in resplendent double choir.
Picture: The Anunciation by Mikhail Nesterov. Marfo-Mariinsky Convent.