Sacred music takes up fully half of nineteenth century Polish composer Stanislaw Moniuszko's output -- the other half is dominated by opera, and his overall output is typified by the opera Halka, his most famous work -- but heretofore little has appeared on disc to represent Moniuszko's efforts on behalf of the church. As good as Halka is, Dux's Stanislaw Moniusko: Masses, featuring soloists and the Warsaw Philharmonic Chorus under the direction of Henryk Wojnarowski, indicates that sacred music may have been Moniuszko's strongest suit. The three masses included here were all written in Moniuszko's last years; the Latin Mass in D flat written in 1870, the Funeral Mass in G minor in 1871, and the St. Peter's Mass in B flat in 1872, the last work premiered less than a month before its composer breathed his last. The music is alternatively muscular and transcendently devotional and embodies the finest ideals of nineteenth century sacred choral music in its variety; clear-eyed optimism; passages of hardy, but not overly busy counterpoint; and lack of pretension; Stainer's Crucifixion this is not. The soloists are well chosen, they do not grandstand in Moniuszko's music but transmit its spirit respectively, and while the choir is not altogether transparent in sound, that would not be an appropriate way to perform this music anyway. The Warsaw Philharmonic Chorus finds just the right balance of serenity and the vox populi; this is music of the people, and specifically Poland's people, and the choir makes it work.
If a listener appreciates Liszt's late choral music or Janácek's early choral music, then this will easily find a happy home on the shelf. That said, Dux' Stanislaw Moniusko: Masses is not exactly like either of those composers, nor anything one has heard in nineteenth century sacred music, but it has a resolute rightness, a clarity of vision, and inexhaustible spiritual dimension that make one wonder why these outstanding masses have been unknown to us for so long.