Ars Produktion's DSD release Baroque in Poland taps into Polish reserves for early music, as interpreted by the award-winning group Ensemble Alla Polacca, of whom this is the first recording. Soprano Iwona Lesniowska-Lubowicz is joined by keyboardist Paulina Kilarska and theorbo/archlute and Baroque guitarist Stanislaw Gojny in the main group; string players Margret Baumgartl and Holger Faust-Peters also join the program to provide the all-important violin and gamba parts to the proceedings. Lesniowska-Lubowicz has a lovely, pure soprano voice worthy of Emma Kirkby and makes a lot out of little in the modestly scaled sacred concertos presented here. It is edifying to know that Poland was a country in addition to Germany where the sacred concerto was part of the bill of fare in the late 17th century, and despite the tremendous obscurity of these composers, these concertos -- particularly those of Stanislaw Sylwester Szarzynski -- are quite skillfully made, nearly on a par with Franz Tunder's far better known efforts in the genre.
As to the composers represented here, only the name of Adam Jarzebski -- whose complete output was once available on an Olympia CD -- is likely to ring any bells with even the most informed Baroque aficionado. The rest include both native Polish composers and others who traveled to Warsaw from other countries in order to participate in the thriving court founded by Sigismund III Vasa, who moved the seat of the Polish-Lithuanian Confederation from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596. The music on the disc ranges from about the reign of Wladislaw IV -- who died in 1648 -- to near the temporary, but effective, dissolution of the state of Poland in 1794. Although the selections by Antoni Milwid and Giovanni Battista Luparini date from the later 18th century, they do not seem like fish out of water in either this program or their treatment by Ensemble Alla Polacca, indicating that the court in Warsaw did not follow musical trends in the rest of Europe. Perhaps they did, with these compositions being holdouts of an old-school aesthetic still present in Poland at that time; Luparini -- a contemporary of Giovanni Battista Sammartini, but nowhere near as fashion forward as he -- was an Italian musician in the service of the Jesuit church in Kraków.
Despite its high-end format, this is not a perfect recording; the Mielczewski work that opens the disc is somehow quieter than the rest and overall the vocal selections seem to have a bit more presence than instrumental ones; additionally, there is, at one point, a weird shift between channels during the Milwid cantata. Of all the music, only the Szarzynski Sonata a due violini strikes one right off the bat as an appealing masterwork and revelation. However, these pieces were chosen for the qualitative merits out of material that is not great in quantity given the repeated, catastrophic purges of both people and property in Poland between the time of the latest of these compositions and the establishment of the People's Republic of Poland in 1990 that it is amazing anything from this era has managed to surface. No matter what one may feel about Ars Produktion's Baroque in Poland, which is overall a fine disc and a good debut for Ensemble Alla Polacca, one appreciates the diligence that went into the research and discovery that went into it.