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Early music according to the French - all colours of the Baroque
Add date: Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The 14th edition of the Misteria Paschalia Festival has come to an end. What was it like to experience this eight-day adventure with the French feeling of music? It was certainly full of respect for the presented pieces and insightful views on the works from broad historical and aesthetic perspectives, with performances oriented at conveying the composer’s intention. The first ever national-themed edition of the Festival – devoted to French music – was an opportunity to present the grand works of French masters in the art of sound that were unknown in Poland, but also to meet the most outstanding French artists – their sensitivity, class, elegance, natural musicality and perfect understanding of the complexity of early music and its historically informed performance.

During the eleven Festival concerts, we could discover not only the abundance of Baroque emotions and affections, but also the specificity of styles prevalent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: French, German and Italian. This richly nuanced and multifaceted programme was created by the Director-Resident, Vincent Dumestre, and his never-failing Le Poème Harmonique. For the first time in Poland, we could listen to the programme comprising mystical music from the anthology of sacred works Selva morale e spirituale at the inauguration in St. Catherine's Church, during the concert organised in celebration of Claudio Monteverdi’s 450th anniversary of birth. Apart from his ensemble Le Poème Harmonique, Dumestre invited the vocalists from the highly esteemed Russian choir musicAeterna, who made their debut at the Festival, and a plethora of outstanding French soloists, including tenor Cyril Auvity and mezzo-soprano Eva Zaïcik.


The most famous French requiem – Messe des morts by Jean Gilles – sounded on Holy Tuesday at the Corpus Christi Church, performed by the instrumental ensemble Capriccio Stravagante, the Capella Cracoviensis Choir, and soloists led by Skip Sempé. On Holy Wednesday, St. Catherine's Church hosted the world première of Antonio Draghi’s sacred opera Il terremoto. The plot, dramatised for the Festival purposes by Benjamin Lazar, revolves around the earthquake that took place upon the death of Christ according to St. Matthew’s Gospel. Amid playful illumination, gestures and rich symbolism, the show was performed by such artists as soprano Claire Lefilliâtre, tenor Jeffrey Thompson, the famous French counter-tenor with an undeniable comical flare, Dominique Visse, alto Helena Poczykowska and soprano Anna Zawisza, both associated with Capella Cracoviensis, plot recounting actress Alexandra Rübner, and the combined Franco-Polish forces of Le Poème Harmonique and Arte dei Suonatori ensembles dexterously led by Dumestre. The monumental music of Brockes-Passion by Georg Philipp Telemann, George Frideric Handel, Reinhard Keiser, Johann Mattheson and Christoph Graupner encouraged the Maundy Thursday’s pensiveness. We could hear this pasticcio composed by Raphaël Pichon at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre, performed by his Ensemble Pygmalion and an international line-up of soloists. We could admire various musical images of the Stabat Mater sequence on Good Friday, both those well-known, like Pergolesi’s masterpiece, and less famous ones of folk provenance, which were set in a wide context of Neapolitan eighteenth century tradition and again brought to us by Dumestre and his Le Poème Harmonique. Julia Lezhneva, who is deservedly adored in Krakow, and the alto Anthea Pichanick, who made her debut at the Festival, showed their class and sublime vocal culture that evening. As a certain supplement to that concert, Luigi Boccherini’s Stabat Mater setting was performed on Holy Saturday by the string quintet Le Concert de la Loge and the Portuguese soprano Eduarda Melo in St. Kinga's Chapel situated 101 metres underground in Wieliczka Salt Mine. In turn, the Saturday Easter concert at the ICE Krakow was a burst of colour owing to the radiance and grandeur of Michel Richard de Lalande’s grands motets, written specially for the Sun King. The majestic vocal and instrumental motets were rendered by Le Poème Harmonique led by Vincent Dumestre, the masterful Capella Cracoviensis Choir and an international array of excellent soloists.


Alongside the deep reflection-provoking concerts, the Holy Week of the Festival also featured the concerts intended to recreate the epoch as closely as possible. This obviously refers to the enthusiastically received, both by the audience and music critics, three-day late-night cycle of concerts at the Corpus Christi Church within the Tenebrae programme. Held in semi-darkness and lit only by candlelight, the concerts on Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday and Maundy Thursday were devoted to the Tenebrae (leçons de Ténèbres), i.e. music vigils traditional to France. Lessons by such authors as Sebastien de Brossard, Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Jean-Baptiste Gouffet, Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Michel Richard de Lalande were an opportunity to submerge oneself in philosophical reflection and experience something miraculously evasive or even mystic.

After the nostalgic Holy Week, the final act of the Festival on Easter Monday was a grand celebration of joy and life. The stars of this spectacular evening included the phenomenal Korean countertenor endowed with a wide vocal range and an incredible stage talent, David DQ Lee, and Ensemble Matheus conducted from the violin by energetic and humorous Jean-Christophe Spinosi. After the vocal and instrumental virtuosity of Handel’s, Telemann’s and Vivaldi’s arias and concertos, the audience was regaled with an ecstatic and vigorous finale.


Although the 14th Misteria Paschalia Festival has already become history, the beautiful memories will linger on. This year’s edition featured four world and three Polish premières. Krakow played host to two hundred sixty artists from thirteen countries, and twelve ensembles, who performed thirty four pieces arranged into eleven concerts. This year it was again possible to participate in the event via the radio broadcast on Polish Radio 2. The inaugural concert was on air on the French TV channels Mezzo and KTO TV, as well as platform. The adventure with the French edition of the Festival can be relived as Polish Radio 2 and Mezzo will rebroadcast some concerts! More good news – the wards of the GRAAL Association for the Development of Children’s Personalities helped with audience management for the first time in the history of the Misteria Paschalia Festival. Six wards of the foundation – people with Down syndrome – worked during the three concerts at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre. Moreover, to meet the expectations of our most faithful audiences, three open rehearsals for seniors were held, attracting a large turnout also this year. Novelties included workshops for youth organised as part of the Tenebrae programme and a lecture prepared by experts from the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. Guest turned up in force to attend both the concerts and these evening meetings!

Thank you for being with us. See you next year!


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