Quo Vadis

Jan A.P. Kaczmarek

" Several variations follow, but the truly breathtaking version is the monumental 12 minute long Milosc I Umieranie (Medytacja) "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the regular release

For reasons unknown, the famous book Quo Vadis written by Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz was not adapted into a Polish film and mini-series until 2001. Earlier versions left me unimpressed, but the well known 1951 version featured quite a good score by Miklós Rózsa. The choral writing, the love theme and the ethnic dances are amongst its ingredients that influenced the sound of scores for a long time, but on a personal level the overall golden age sound does not attract me (anymore). The Polish version was first cut for theatrical release, later made available in an extended miniseries. Jan A.P Kaczmarek was attracted to write more contemporary music, which is on all fronts a much, much better score than the famed previous version.

The musical colour of the score by Kaczmarek is divided into traditional orchestra, a mixed female and male choir, a solo vocal and various ethnic flavours performed by soloists and the band Desorient.

The medieval choral writing in cues such as Błogosławiony Jesteś and Collosseum is superb and supplemented by ethnic and traditional orchestral instruments. The nuance in the use of choir goes from overblown to more brooding in nature, singing religious texts in Polish and is distinctively beautiful because of the antiphonal approach, with a clear distinction between the male and female part of the choir. Some phrases of the choir are carried over to brass and the trombone.

For the ethnic dances the composer deployed a few soloists instruments (ney, duduk), performed by the same person who provides a beautiful solo vocal, as well as the band Desorient with their Eastern European and Arabic instruments. I very much enjoyed Desorient' debute on Michal Lorenc´ Złoto Dezerterów with whom they continued to work on other scores, while reinterpreting his works for two studio albums. Desorient adds a vibrant and ethnic flavour to Quo Vadis, notably in the dance Uczta Nerona, but also mixed with the overall palette that the composer laid out for his music.

The score is not devoid of (battle) music that is epic in nature, with some some strong brass performances, including some small fanfares, as well as great percussion, a stirring string section and choir. Przemoc and Rzym Plonie represent all of that best.

What makes this score truly stand out are two pièce de résistance cues, works of art to take to the grave. The first is the encompassing orchestral love theme, first heard in Pierwsze Spotkanie, overlaid with a heavenly male singer, also present in the second piece. It really comes to bloom in the magnificently tender Ligia I Winicjusz, which marks the first take that by repetitions evolves into some much more emotional. It is reminiscent of the music of Wojchiech Kilar, who was the best at this particular method of writing. For example, Kilar´s 2006 Magnificat carries resemblances to these thematic treatments by Kaczmarek. Several variations follow, but the truly breathtaking version is the monumental 12 minute long Miłość I Umieranie (Medytacja), in which this consistently slow and tender flow of the love theme reaches medative heights.

The second piece is Pokój Prześladowanym (Lament), it marks the return of Kurdish singer Nizamettin Ariç, the solo vocal from Pierwsze Spotkanie, but the tone of emotional urgency sets this miles apart. It´s a truly saddening lament, for orchestra and solo voice. From an impassive point of view, the male singer is excessively overdramatic, but emotionally his voice is unparalleled and easily ensures one of the most memorable musical moments I have ever encountered upon in a score. His wailing and crying is atypical for a lament, but this just builds and builds, like something out of this world. Ariç is a Kurdish singer I greatly admire and who was also responsible for all duduk and ney solos on this score. His abilities as a singer can be heard in many great albums, while he has scored several films and directed (one) of the first Kurdish films.

Kaczmarek was not satisfied with the placement of his music in Quo Vadis, as heard in the theatrical 3 hour release. I have only seen the mini-series, but I think I have to agree with him wholeheartedly. The musical release does also have some flaws, apart from the second disc that I will not even discuss, which has anything to do with a sense of surprise. Upon hearing the music to Quo Vadis in the days of its release, I was truly baffled by numerous cues, and while I like all the music on cd, after a while some cues seem like ´standard´ reprises. All things considered, these are minor issues from what is overall a masterpiece. Quo Vadis is one of the many examples of what makes Jan A.P. Kaczmarek such a great composer and one of the reasons some Polish composers have a special place in my heart.

Tracklist score Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
1. Colosseum (03:20)
2. Pierwsze spotkanie (02:36)
3. Przeznaczenie (02:54)
4. Blogoslawiony jestes (02:44)
5. Uczta Nerona (02:22)
6. Ligia i Winicjusz (05:10)
7. Pokój przesladowanym (Lament) (06:47)
8. Orgia (03:40)
9. Ostrtanum (02:01)
10. Milosci umieranie (Medytacja) (12:02)
11. Taniec Chilona (02:18)
12. Vae Misere Mihi (01:35)
13. Rzym plonie (03:41)
14. Tobie ufam (01:43)
15. Ligia uratowana (02:01)
16. Przemoc (03:31)
17. Smierc Nerona (00:55)
18. Wracam do Rzymu (02:49)

(written 14-08-2019)
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(total of 1 votes - average 5/5)

Released by

Sony Polska (regular release 2002)