Zubel and the Polish Radio Choir
Due to her reputation, every stage appearance of Agata Zubel, especially in her own pieces, attracts audiences and gives rise to great expectations. This time, she was the central figure of a monographic concert by the Polish Radio Choir, held as part of the cycle ‘Music Salon’ in Villa Decius. Ensemble’s new cycle is to restore the idea of a salon being a place for the existence of real-life and approachable art. The concept works well – thanks to the artists’ proximity to the listeners and thanks to meetings with the performers and composers.
In the first part of the concert, Zubel performed with Cezary Duchnowski as the ElettroVoce duet. They presented Parlando for voice and computer (2000) and Stories for voice and prepared piano (2004). Since both compositions often appear in concert programmes, it is possible to observe how the singer’s voice has become more mature, and to appreciate her flawless technique. While Parlando could be treated as a warm-up, Stories is a true masterpiece. Although the music of the pieces comes in line with Natasha Goerke’s lyrics, their leitmotif has concerned various vocal techniques. The precision of performance was breathtaking, even when exuberant expression, original sound paintings (also in the piano part), and almost instrumental virtuosity took over, not to mention the mix of comic and turpist effects. The risk of juxtaposing them without any meaning was high, yet the execution of words and Zubel’s feeling for the form saved the piece from nonsense.
The second part of the concert was up to the hosts. Zubel’s Lullaby (2013), set to a text by Shakespeare, is an example of how much using a particular language in lyrics may affect the selection of compositional devices. The piece, performed with a homogeneous and nice sound, was accessible and implicated connotations of English choral singing. Towards the end of the concert, we witnessed the Polish premiere of two of four Madrigals written by the composer in 2015 for Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart. Zubel confirms that while composing, she had in mind the tradition of the genre. Five part harmony or the domination of polyphony may prove that point. Although the pieces lack lyrics, they evoke clear and visible shades of particular expressions. The first one was calm, lyric, with a leading soprano part, while the second one was humorous, developing from whisper to buzz, analogous not to Jannequin’s madrigals, but to his chansons. Against other achievements of the composer, as well as contemporary pieces for vocal ensembles, Lullaby slightly lacks originality. However, it matched perfectly the afternoon music-making in a Renaissance villa.
Dominika Micał / 12 June 2016 / Krakow
Stanisław Moniuszko – Halka – inauguration of the 11th Polish Music Festival; 8 July 2015, Krakow, Juliusz Słowacki Theatre
There it is, I have returned to concert life thanks to the 11th Polish Music Festival. Although still with difficulty, I managed to reach the inauguration of the festival in order to listen – for the first time in my life – to the original, Vilnius version of Stanisław Moniuszko’s Halka. The Juliusz Słowacki Theatre hosted a concert version thereof conducted by Jan Tomasz Adamus and performed by the Polish Radio Choir, Capella Cracoviensis and soloists: Wioletta Chodowicz in the title part, Michał Partyka as Janusz, Lukáš Zeman as Jontek, Marzena Lubaszka as Zofia, Ryszard Kauls as Cześnik, and Sebastiam Szumski as Marszałek (…). The Polish Radio Choir, prepared by Szymon Wyrzykowski, produced nice and round sound. The highlight of the evening was Wioletta Chodowicz who flawlessly managed her beautiful voice and created a moving character of the wretched mountain girl (…).
Krzysztof Penderecki – Seven Gates of Jerusalem, 7 May 2015, Katowice, concert hall of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Despite Seven Gates of Jerusalem being an emblem piece of Krzysztof Penderecki’s composing style, it still surprises with its diversity (…). In the space of the concert hall of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, everything can be heard perfectly – from piano murmurs of double basses, through accompanying sounds of the grand piano, to the most quiet rasps and rustles of the percussion. The teamed up Krakow Philharmonic Choir and the Polish Radio Choir in Krakow were truly magnificent (…).
Oskar Łapeta, Ruch Muzyczny magazine, June 2015
Arvo Pärt – St. John Passion, 21 March 2015, Krakow, St. Catherine’s Church
Arvo Pärt composed his first and only “Passion” in 1982, not long after the far-famed “De Profundis” and 9 years before the equally famous “Magnificat”. His composition is slow-paced, profoundly meditative and intense. Performed by the Polish Radio Choir, not only it gained valuable artistic features, but also interpretative and stage ones (…).
Edinburgh International Festival / Concert with works by K. Penderecki and H. M. Górecki
18th August 2014, Edinburgh, Greyfriars Kirk
(..) Choirmaster Izabela Polakowska kept a tight rein on the 40-strong singers in the choir who beautifully articulated the subtle shifts of harmony in these straightforward settings. In Most Holy Mother and Hail Mary, set to texts from a Polish hymnal, the singers revelled in Gorecki’s clever use of the hissing sibilance of the Polish language, which created a percussive rhythm all of its own.
By contrast, Penderecki’s equally compelling, but often politically-edged, music, sounds more modern, with its contrapuntal collisions and listless harmonies, melodies and rhythms that never stand still.
The Agnus Dei from his emotionally-charged Polish Requiem was full of spiralling dissonances and pile-ups of chord clusters, with the most extreme crushes saved for the word “peccata”. His musical language was more subdued, but equally challenging vocally in Missa brevis, with its sighing chromaticism and adventurous tonality.
Originally published in The Scotsman
When the stridently beautiful triads that begin Górecki’s famous Totus tuus seemed to set light to the resonant acoustic of Greyfriars Kirk, I knew this concert was going to be something special. (…)
This choir broadcasts frequently with both Polish Radio and is closely associated with both Górecki and Penderecki, so they brought to Edinburgh some of this core repertoire and did so triumphantly.
Their sound is not only beautiful but also remarkably distinctive, and it struck me once or twice that this might be the exemplar East-meets-West choir, combining the beauty and clarity that you associate with Western choirs with the darkness and soul that you expect from the Russians
That top seems to catch the church’s acoustic thrillingly, like the crest of a wave, while the smoky, almost chocolatey sound of the lower voices is reserved not just for the basses but also for the altos. It’s magical, and the music they sang was spellbinding, too (…).
Edinburgh Festival 2014, Edinburgh
Festival-2014, Week’s Reviews
Kyrie by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki and the premiere of album titled “Próg nadziei” (Threshold of Hope)
21 April 2014, Warsaw, St. John’s Archcathedral
“(…) The Polish Radio Choir, conducted by Izabela Polakowska and Włodzimierz Siedlik, resounded truly magnificent, clear, resonant and vivid. The harmonies were precise and the melodic lines presented in a clear manner. All of these compositions – and many more – appeared on a double album produced by the Polish Radio (…),” describes our concert “Threshold of Hope” Krzysztof Komarnicki in Ruch Muzyczny magazine. He also underlines how flawless was the performance (world premiere) of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s “Kyrie”, which also took place during our concert.
Krzysztof Komarnicki, Ruch Muzyczny magazine 5/2014
Iphigenia in Tauris by Christoph Willibald Gluck as part of the 18th Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival
14 April 2014, Warsaw, Warsaw Philharmonic
“(…) Having mentioned the orchestra, one cannot skip the choir – cannot, since the Krakow-based Polish Radio Choir simply did not let forget about itself. Prepared by Izabela Polakowska, it resounded splendid, becoming another significant character in the story, meeting thus Gluck’s intention. The beauty of, for instance, the priestesses’ choir “Patrie infortunée” – truly magical,” describes our yesterday’s appearance editor Jakub Puchalski.
Full article (only in Polish):
“(…)The Polish Radio Choir (prepared by its choir master Izabela Polakowska) resounded brilliant. Reactivated not so long ago within new structures, the ensemble amazes with cohesion of sound and powerful expression. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to admire mainly its female part, however the men also hit their big time in the powerful and convincing excerpt reflecting the entrance of Scythe army (act 1).
It may be difficult to believe but “Iphigenia in Tauris” appeared on a Polish stage no more than the second time in its several-century-long history (which has been confirmed by our national opera expert Piotr Kamiński). It is therefore to be stressed that we had to do with an extraordinary event. (…)”
About the “Easter Mystery”
22 March 2014, Krakow, Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity
“(…) It was a genuine spiritual feast. (…) There are few such concerts that can really make a change in a listener’s heart. If the Polish Radio Choir continues to sing with such excellence, I guess that not only there will be more enthusiasts of the ensemble itself, but also of classical music in general. Keep it up!” wrote Małgorzata Stabrawa about our “Easter Mystery”.
Full article (only in Polish): http://kulturawkrakowie.pl/2014/03/prawdziwe-misterium-na-wielki-post-chor-polskiego-radia-w-najlepszej-formie/