CHICAGO, March 19, 2016 – Fans of modern classical and “new” music take note: Just weeks after their recent release of Henryk Górecki’s posthumously premiered fourth symphony, Nonesuch Records has given admirers of the great Polish composer an additional pair beautiful, musical gifts.
Perfectly in tune with the ongoing career retrospective of the late, great contemporary Polish composer, the first of these is the label’s re-release of their original vinyl LP recording of Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (No. 3). The second is a boxed set of seven CDs containing the entirety of Nonesuch’s substantial Górecki catalog.
It was the Nonesuch recording of Górecki’s now iconic Third Symphony that brought that hitherto unknown piece to the world, in the process generating the greatest sleeper hit in modern classical music recording history.
The opportunity to listen to Górecki’s haunting symphony as it originally recorded for the LP format is to go back in time to experience the work anew. The album is pressed on solid 180-gram vinyl, and includes a download card for the mp3 version of the album as a contemporary bonus for those who may no longer own a quality turntable.
All the depth and immediacy of the LP listening experience is present in this release, along with the strange sense of age and history that seems to materialize from the vinyl. In particular, there is the presence of new color – and dare we say, a pleasant warble – which can be detected when listening to the sustained notes on this recording.
Dawn Upshaw’s signature, gentle voice, at times pleading and at other times straining against the louder dynamic orchestral passages, seems to particularly benefit from its treatment on the vinyl medium.
Musical quality and presence aside, at the very least, this legendary recording, which upended the classical world and even crossed over into the pop charts, clearly deserves to be part of the current vinyl re-release craze.
The Górecki boxed set, by contrast, contains the seven Nonesuch recordings of the Polish composer’s works. Its sequence progresses somewhat chronologically, beginning with “Lerchenmusik,” followed next by the Third Symphony. Next up are the legendary recordings of Górecki’s first two strings quartets by the Kronos Quartet, the American ensemble whose advocacy helped bring Górecki’s chamber music to an international audience.
The choral album “Miserere” follows the quartets in a recording actually made in Chicago and remembered very fondly by the composer. It contains some of Górecki’s finest writing, including the evocative “Broad Waters,” which continues to rank as this author’s favorite choral work (and a work capable of drawing longing and nostalgia from any Polish heart).
From there we proceed through the composer’s strangely named (and often badly translated) “Kleines Requiem fur eine Polka,” to the quirky yet aggressive Harpischord Concerto, to “Good Night,” the only work the composer wrote in the English language.
The final collaboration with the Kronos Quartet follows: their seemingly calm yet visceral take on the composer’s third string quartet, “Songs are Sung.” This is a work that Górecki kept from the public for an entire decade after he completed it, without ever giving a clear explanation as to why.
While David Harrington’s desire for Górecki to write fifteen quartets a là Shostakovich could not be, here we do have the work that may be the composer’s personal elegy, and one that certainly provides his fans with a fitting counterpart to the beloved Third Symphony in its scope, style, and mood. One may be left wondering if the composer held back from releasing the work due to the stunning finality of its tone.
The Nonesuch boxed set concludes with the recent release of Górecki’s Fourth Symphony, which we lauded in a previous review for the great improvements and clarity to the work added over and above its actual concert premiere.
There are two kinds of Górecki fans: those who followed the composer’s every work, and those who only knew and loved the Third Symphony. Both will likely find the low price of this set – $29 mp3 and $30 CD – to be a small price to pay to hold the work of a remarkable lifetime in the palm of one’s hand.