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GRAMOPHONE (05/2022)
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Reviewer :
David Fallows

While Ukraine suffers from an unspeakably murderous invasion, it is good to remember that neighbouring Poland has a fairly rich heritage of music from the Middle Ages – or, at least, two major manuscripts of the mid-15th century, one of them lost, presumably destroyed, in 1944, but mostly surviving in photographs. Between them they contain a quantity of presumably Polish polyphony alongside works composed in Italy by Ciconia and Zacara da Teramo. They seem to have been copied in Kraków, capital of the Jagiellonian kingdom of Poland (until the capital was moved to Warsaw in 1596) and evidently a place where international polyphony was much cultivated and valued.

Leading off with the spirited two-voice student-song Breve regnum erigitur, the musicians of La Morra take us through a range of music associated with early 15th-century Kraków, including works by the two known Polish composers of those years, Radomski and the bizarre Petrus Wilhelmi of Grudencz. The church music here is all sung just by four voices, a superb ensemble led by the peerless Doron Schleifer: the Mass movements by Ciconia and Zacara shine out as the most glorious pieces, given marvellously idiomatic and vital performances (and sadly the only track that lowers the temperature is a Magnificat by Radomski; but few Magnificat settings of those years make it as audience experiences). But the programme benefits particularly from concentrating on the music of only a few years, giving scope for us to hear its range of styles. Most heartwarming of all, in these terrible times, are two gorgeous songs in praise of Poland, its people and its royal family.

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