From time to time, the choir engages a guest conductor, and for the Christmas concert, In Dulci Jubilo, 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 several 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 straightforward 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 who died shortly after the Second World War.
Mikolaj Zieleński 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 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 considered 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 also 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.