The music on this disc comes from the city of Krakow, whose Renaissance and Baroque repertories remain little investigated. Here a Renaissance-style mass, the Missa Pulcherrima of Bartlomiej Pekiel, is paired with a fabulous short motet from the same composer and a group of motets by the considerably younger Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki. Poland's Dux label deserves props for supporting the unearthing of this music, much of which is gorgeous. The youthful Vocal Octet Octava handles the difficult challenge of two-to-a-part singing well, and the Royal Cathedral of Wawel, close to the sound environment in which the music originated, is given a lovely warm sheen from Dux's engineering team. The booklet is a weak point. There are two separate essays, one of which, by ensemble director Zygmunt Magiera, mostly substitutes proselytizing for information but suggests that Pekiel's music resembles that of Palestrina. It doesn't, really; the texture is clearer and the unusual unifying device, a sort of motto (not a cantus firmus) perhaps based on an unidentified Eastern European folk song, was not one Palestrina would likely have chosen. What's most interesting about the mass is that it really doesn't resemble anything else. It was composed in 1669, very late for a mass in the old polyphonic style, and its clear harmonic moves show evidence of an acquaintance with the Italian Baroque. Those moves, however, are beautifully integrated into pure Franco-Flemish polyphony. A supplementary essay by Agnieszka Draus discusses this work a little bit, but is completely silent on Gorczycki. His motets are in the a cappella Baroque style of composers like Antonio Lotti, and they, too, are fine examples. Musically, the appeal of this disc should extend well beyond those interested in Poland and its still largely untapped musical sources.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim