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Life Journey - Gorecki / Kemp, Chamber Domaine


Release Date: 02/10/2009 
Label:  Landor Records   Catalog #: 287   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Performer:  Thomas Kemp
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



GÓRECKI Requiem für eine Polka. 6 Valentine Piece for Solo Flute and Little Bell. 3 2 Sacred Songs. 2,5 Toccata for 2 Pianos. 2,4 Variations for Violin and Piano. 1,2 Piano Preludes. 2 3 Songs. 2,5 Concerto for 5 Instruments and String Read more Quartet 6 Thomas Kemp (vn); 1 cond; 6 Stephen De Pledge (pn); 2 Evelina Puzaite (pn); 4 Anna Wolstenholme (fl); 3 Owen Gunnell (handbells); 3 Ronan Collett (bar); 5 C Domaine 6 LANDOR 287 (70:02 Text and Translation)


This utterly fascinating disc covers 41 years in the creative life of Henryk Górecki, the mystical yet enigmatic Polish composer most famous for rejecting the fame thrust upon him by the wildly successful Nonesuch recording of his Third Symphony. Not only did he refuse to produce similar works to solidify his “niche market,” but he didn’t like the Nonesuch performance as much as the one conducted by Antoni Wit that has since appeared on the Naxos label. The entertainment biz quickly ditched Górecki, but those of us who understood his aesthetic stance and admired his integrity have not forgotten him.


The works here focus primarily on his student years, five of the eight pieces having been written between 1955 (when he was 22 years old) and 1957. Three of the five have world premiere recordings here, as do the Valentine Piece (1996) and the Two Sacred Songs (1971). But simply being first on disc does not always mean music of quality. With Górecki, however, one is almost assured that his music has quality. From the start, he was creating works of intensely private feelings and states of mind, very similar to the working methods of P?teris Vasks, 13 years Górecki’s junior.


Although these works appear to be different and/or contain different movements within them, they sound in this CD sequence like part of some continuum of thought. Essentially tonal, they nevertheless operate within a sound world in which bitonality and out-of-center harmonies intrude on the listener’s conscious as they intruded on the composer’s subconscious. Thus, in the opening Requiem für eine Polka, one could indeed spend time analyzing each movement, but the development is not as important as the contrasting moods and the way in which they are created. In the first movement, for instance, we hear an almost minimalist opening, soft piano notes interspersed with a bell. The two violins enter after about two minutes, also very softly, giving the music a bittersweet quality. The music jumps to a loud climax at the 5:15 mark, but recedes into a mezzo-piano section. At one point, the lower strings play a hymn tune that almost sounds like the one at the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The movement ends in a comparative, if unresolved, repose. But to break down this piece, or any of these pieces, this way defeats Górecki’s purpose as well as our listening response, for the complete Requiem constantly varies and juxtaposes moods in a quite arresting way. The “polka,” incidentally, resembles neither a Polish nor a German polka, but some sort of psychotic dance inside one’s brain.


The Valentine is likewise plaintive, and almost leads as a bridge to the Two Sacred Songs , sung with tremendous feeling by baritone Ronan Collett, particularly the first song, in which the poet and the composer dedicate themselves to God. Suddenly, we are plunged into the strongly rhythmic and dissonant, polytonal world of Górecki’s youth, as the Toccata bursts in on this well-crafted reverie like a bombshell. The early Variations for Violin and Piano is also more strongly rhythmic, though the quietude of the lyrical section is remarkable. At this stage of his career, Górecki was fighting the stultifying social realities of socialist-realist Poland, and when the variations turn more violent, one hears echoes of Bartók.


The four Piano Preludes are sequenced like a sonatina, a weighty first movement in sonata form followed by a most remarkable Lento-recitative. Though 2:24 in performance, it is a mere 32 bars. A very brief (55-second) Allegro scherzando leads directly into a finale that echoes Chopin’s Sonata No. 2. The earlier Three Songs , dedicated to the composer’s mother, contains two dealing with maternal intimacy and death, and a third, lighter song describing the fleeting presence of a bird on a branch. Collett’s voice is not, alas, very firm or attractive, but he is expressive.


The concluding concerto, though also quite early (1957), already points towards the Górecki style to come. One might mention that, in some ways, it was not only unfair to Górecki but to Polish music in general that his talents were hidden from the West during the decades of communist rule, while his countryman Penderecki became a media superstar. Though not devoid of talent, Penderecki wrote music entirely outward in expression, concerned with effect and what I term “conscious ugliness,” while Górecki represented the Polish soul with greater fidelity.


Throughout this CD, the sound quality is realistic and superb, though perhaps my enthusiasm comes from hearing it immediately after the overblown, artificial boominess of the Bloch CD (reviewed elsewhere). And throughout, one cannot say enough for the musical sensitivity as well as the virtuosity of the various musicians involved. Chamber Domaine is, apparently, the British equivalent of eighth blackbird, an ensemble of young(ish) musicians totally dedicated to contemporary music. This CD was my introduction to them; if it is yours, I’m certain your reaction will be as wholeheartedly enthusiastic as was mine.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1. Kleines Requiem für eine Polka, Op. 66 by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1993; Poland 
2. Valentine Piece for Solo Flute and Little Bell, Op. 70 by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
3. Sacred Songs (2), Op. 30 by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
Period: 20th Century 
4. Toccata for 2 Pianos, Op. 2 by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; Poland 
5. Variations for Violin and Piano, Op. 4 by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Performer:  Thomas Kemp (Violin)
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; Poland 
6. Preludes (4) for Piano, Op. 1 by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; Poland 
7. Songs (3), Op. 3 by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
Period: 20th Century 
8. Concerto for 5 Instruments and String Quartet, Op. 11 by Henryk Mikolaj Górecki
Conductor:  Thomas Kemp
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Domaine
Period: 20th Century 

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