Górecki Symphony No 3; Olden Style Pieces

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GÓRECKI Symphony No 3; Olden Style Pieces

  • Symphony No. 3, 'Symphony of Sorrowful Songs'
  • (3) Pieces in Old Style

The unprecedented success of Gorecki's Third Symphony has forged an uncomfortable divide between the avant-garde elite and the 'low-brow' vox populi, with much noisy confusion in between. We might well ask ourselves: had the work not reached the charts, would it have then earned itself a more prestigious reputation among modern music specialists? Possibly—yet if its audience catchment had remained limited, then the world of music would have been much the poorer. For, no matter how we evaluate its worth or predict its place in the ultimate scheme of things, the evidence is conclusive: Gorecki's Third has done more than any other large-scale contemporary work to stimulate interest in modern music. Even Leonard Bernstein, genius that he undoubtedly was, failed to achieve a parallel success with any of his 'serious' works.
Up to now the Symphony's strongest allies (apart from Classic FM and the media generally) have been Dawn Upshaw, the London Sinfonietta and David Zinman, whose silken, sensuous and hypnotically intense Elektra-Nonesuch recording helped smooth the way for its wider acceptance. And this new Naxos recording is, in its way, virtually as good. The performance itself is exceptionally fine, although the acoustic is more resonant than Elektra's, the orchestral choirs less closely balanced and Antoni Wit isn't quite as meticulous as Zinman in his observance of minor details—the subtle contrasts between f, poco f and mf in the pivotal tolling harp and piano chords, for example; or in terms of ensemble near the beginning of the third movement (where, at the words ''moj synocek mily?'', flutes and solo voice are imperfectly synchronized).
Interpretatively, Wit (like Katiewicz and Kamirski before him) leaves the more austere impression. His relative inwardness squares convincingly with the symphony's harrowing texts and 'Sorrowful Songs' sub-title, whereas Zinman's sweeter wall of string tone, although more immediately appealing, is perhaps marginally less appropriate. Similar parallels apply when considering the two soprano soloists. Dawn Upshaw's rich-toned commentary soars ecstatically among the score's higher reaches; it's the perfect foil for Zinman, and if spectacular singing is your main priority, then Upshaw's is unquestionably the vocal tour de force. Zofia Kilanowicz, on the other hand, displays stronger lower registers and a brilliant, bleached-white soprano that reflects the score's innate pathos, its sense of shock. Furthermore, her enunciation is more idiomatic (her Polish 'l', for instance, sounds particularly authentic), while her partial suspension of vibrato is a powerful interpretative ploy, one that mirrors the texts and reminds us that this is, in many crucial respects, a symphonic tragedy.
What most impresses me about this performance is its spirituality; and given the overall excellence of the recording, the conducting and the singing (not to mention the absurdly low price and the fetching Three Pieces in Old Style makeweight), I'd strongly recommend it, particularly to those collectors who have as yet to discover the Symphony's hypnotic sound-world. I'd also commend it to those who do know the work but who find Upshaw and Zinman rather too 'plush' and, most importantly, to those whose distaste for popularism has inhibited a serious assessment of the Symphony's sterling virtues. '

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