Notes and Editorial Reviews
Of the modern 'moderns' Ligeti gained some populist attention through the choral music for '2001: A Space Odyssey'. For Penderecki it was his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima complete with that awesome massed violin shreik as the bomb explodes in an incinerating dazzle. Gorecki had to wait for this Symphony which was taken up and popularised by the then budding UK commercial radio station Classic FM. Its early success spawned a crop of alternative recordings. The most eminent, and commercially successful of these was the Nonesuch version. This had the purity and power of Dawn Upshaw's voice to commend it.
Gorecki's earlier two symphonies have a reputation for scathing energy. The Third, written at a retro-Romantic peak,
is well summed up by its title. Its string writing is meditative, often quiet, certainly introspectively searching. It is of an affecting simplicity by comparison with the Scriabin-like complexity of Valentin Silvestrov's equally lyrical though denser luminosity in his Fifth Symphony. The first movement, all thirty minutes of it, is, for half its length, like an expansive Finzi introit for strings with momentary flashbacks to the strings of Copland's Lincoln Portrait. The soprano soloist enters at 15.03 with the Holy Cross Lament in which the Virgin Mary implores the crucified Christ to share his wounds with her. The second of the three movements is slow; all three are slow. It continues the melodic material of the first movement and is even more moving than that movement. The soprano sings an inscription on the wall of the Gestapo prison in Zakopane: 'Mother, do not cry, Queen of Heaven, Virgin most pure, support me always, Hail Mary.' Greater vocal colour is demanded and given in the third movement. The words: a Polish mother weeps for her dead son killed in war. The breathing oscillation that forms a constant subdued ostinato is derived from the start of the Mazurka Op. 17 No. 4 by Chopin.
I have not heard alternative versions for some years now but the Dawn Upshaw version, at full price, is still well worth hearing. Stefania Woytowicz (better known for her Szymanowski Symphony No. 3 and Stabat Mater) is dark-toned and with the merest hint of vibrato colouring in her voice. She is completely in character with the gentle contours and reverential demands of the music. There is never a jagged or raging moment. This is not a work to be played in the car stereo on a long overnight drive!
The notes by Adrian Thomas, are brief, multilingual and useful but no texts are given.
A spiritually apposite performance which will please many. A good bargain issue with allowance being made for a string sound that lacks only the last ounce of refined transparency.
-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
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