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Fellini, Labiszyn and plainchant

11 Nov

The Romanian composer Georges Enescu wrote only two truly famous pieces of music, the Romanian Rhapsodies nos 1 and 2. In the first Rhapsody, the idea behind the music is that people go to a village wedding and get more and more merry from the drink until they are swaying. The music starts out happy but sober, and gradually it gets more and more woozy, until it drunkenly staggers about in an amiable way. Of course it takes a lot of skill from the orchestra to imitate the drunkeness musically. I think it was Rowan Atkinson who said the best way to imitate a drunk person is to pretend that you’re trying desperately hard to sound sober, but what I am going to describe was neither a Mr. Bean creating chaos as he goes, nor the sarcastic drunk father about to lose his daughter to a ne’er do well; this was entirely in the amiable spirit of Enescu’s village wedding. Labiszyn is a very small town South of Bydgoszcz. My wife, a friend and I turned up at Labiszyn’s large church because we wanted to attend a concert given by the extremely talented Collegium Vocale, a four-part group of singers who among other things, sing medieval and renaissance music, both sacred and secular.  The Mass before the concert  had over-run its course a little when we arrived, but this meant we were able to sample the beauty of autumnal leaves which had fallen all around the church, and enjoy the rather faint sun which bathed everything in a soft light. We went into the church and sat down.  We were greeted by a fanfarę of trumpets and trombones. Up in the organ loft the local brass band played patriotic Polish tunes well but woozily, sometimes sliding in and out of notes like a talkative church usher who has had a few vodkas. Because the band was in the organ loft, they were playing to the backs of our heads as we sat in  the pews.  It was exactly like a scene from a Fellini film;  merry colour ( a group of brassy angels, perhaps?)  adding earthbound pomp from on high to the proceedings. Enescu would have been delighted if he were still alive, and had he some  reason for coming to this corner of Poland. To be fair, this was delightful and well-enough played not to sound too drunk and not to descend into incoherence. This was then followed by the plaintive singing of Collegium Vocale, who seem to be on top from at the moment; their rendering of monk’s plainchant, was deeply moving, and took the scariness out of the hoodies shuffling along to their pews, which they might have evoked if they were more in horror mode. They also sang their medieval/renaissance psalms , not only to harmonising the notes perfectly, but making their different voices blend, a beguiling combination of beauty and austerity. At the same time, they sang warmly in the rather cold church. If anyone is in or around Bydgoszcz at this time, Collegium Vocale are giving other concerts. Warmly recommended.  As for the Labiszyn brass band, I have no idea where or when their next engagement is.