GÓRECKI Symphony No 4
Over 30 years may separate Górecki’s Third and Fourth Symphonies but it would be misleading to attribute such a long hiatus to some kind of symphonic ‘composer’s block’. The unexpected success of the Third during the 1990s may have played on Górecki’s mind during the intervening years (indeed, the Fourth remained incomplete when he died in 2010, leaving his son Mikołaj to orchestrate the work), but in many respects the two pieces could not be further apart. If the evocation of sorrow and loss lies at the heart of the Third, then the Fourth rails against the fading of the mortal light, defiantly shaking its fist at death.
The rise and swell of the Third is replaced here by a fractured and fissured intensity, projected purposefully on this live recording of the work’s 2014 world premiere by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrey Boreyko. The Fourth Symphony seems haunted by relentless repetitions and a disruptive, disfigured continuity, but shafts of light do occasionally illuminate its dark corners. A rambunctious theme in horns and trombones opens the third movement – a kind of minuet and trio. The first section evokes Mahler in its bucolic boisterousness, while the plangent sonorities of the contrasting section (effectively a trio for piano, violin and cello) call to mind the ‘Louange à l’éternité de Jésus’ from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Likewise, the fourth movement sets off on a twisting, dance-like detour, animated by mischievous folk-like turns on clarinets and oboes.
There is something of a tonal twist at the end, too, but no sooner are we out of the woods than we are dragged back in by the hammer-like blows of the work’s opening and closing theme, itself a musical cryptogram taken from the name of the Polish-born composer Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986). The Fourth Symphony is ostensibly a homage to Tansman; after all, his name generates the work’s principal thematic ideas. In reality, it stands as an impressive musical mausoleum to the many elements that comprised Górecki’s own language – a powerful and personal farewell from one of the 20th century’s most distinctive voices.