The Sixteen seem here poised to do for seventeenth-century Polish sacred music what they have already done for Portuguese Music of the same period: not so much record it for the first time, but record it with a perfection that underlines its universal aesthetic value. Bartlomiej Pekiel is obscure to most people, but a personal favorite of mine. Be that is it may, this recording has turned out as good as I hoped for, if not better. The precision and evenness of tone of the singers, as well as the `close-up' recording acoustic helps bring out the variety and interest of Pekiel's fine contrapuntal textures, especially in the stile antico pieces. The Sixteen also do justice to the occasionally ravishing beauty of his unique "take" on the universal tonal language of the seventeenth century. In one sense this disc gives a fine overview of Pekiel's output as a composer, stressing the variety of sacred genres he contributed to. In another sense, it is not very representative, in that they have chosen to record all the handful of surviving stile moderno pieces (according to the CD booklet preserved mainly in German Lutheran sources) that have come down to us from Pekiel, but only a small selection of the a cappella or cappella with continuo pieces. These latter are predominantly late works preserved in Polish sources, and they survive in larger numbers.
Compared to some of the other composers of the Polish Royal Chapel of the late Renaissance and Early Baroque, like Marenzio, Kasper Forster Jr., or Mielczewski, Pekiel stands out in my mind for the often intense introversion and personal nature of much of his music, even in the grandly-scored festal masses. For example, take his frequent use of such devices as sudden, chiaroscuro-like shifts of harmonies in a darker direction, as in the Missa Lombardesca here recorded, where most the chords are major--but the key center turns out to be minor. This kind of emotional tension, meditative-toned spirituality, and often melancholy-tinged moods are typical of his music, but might not appeal to every taste, especially in a `listen through' of CD- length. Yet, thoughtfully, two of his three surviving Christmas carol settings--much lighter in tone--are included here, and serve as a welcome change of mood.
In sum, this is a fine disk that can be recommended strongly, especially to lovers of late Renaissance and early Baroque sacred music.