Beth Gibbons and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra: Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) (Domino) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, November 15th, 2019  

Beth Gibbons and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra

Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)

Domino

Mar 29, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


As its title suggests, Polish composer Henryk Górecki's 1977 third symphony is a melancholy work of classical musical. Split into three movements, from the very beginning it's drenched with the sorrow of its title (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs): lugubrious cellos and double basses death-marching forward as violins and violas occasionally attempt to fight through the darkness of their shadowswith little success. It's a beautifully slow and sad composition, and one that's more than just funereal. Instead, it seems to carry the whole weight and burden of existence (and the end of it) through its lilting passages, its never-quite-soaring strings, its delicate, dour laments. It's music that reaches into the dark heart of history and humanity and emerges with your own personal fears transformed into something entirely transcendental and, despite the darkness, entirely magnificent. It's little wonder, then, that in 1992, a version of the symphony performed by the London Sinfonietta topped the classical charts in both the USA and Britain.

This versionfrom a performance by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra that took place in Warsaw, Poland, in 2014is full of the kind of gravitas and solemnity you'd expect from a piece with its title. That's aided by the presence of Portishead's Beth Gibbonsor, rather, her beguiling and unsettling voice, which haunts this piece intermittently, floating ghostlike through its maudlin, mournful melodies. This is not, it should be noted, the same alien-esque voice that came to define the sound and sensibilities of Portishead. While traces of that do remain here, on the whole Gibbonswith her quasi-operatic delivery and very humanly emotional voicesounds like a trained classical singer from decades, if not centuries, ago. Remarkably, the singer actually learned to sing the original Polish text, even though she doesn't speak the language. That Górecki originally wrote for a soprano voiceone register higher than Gibbons' contraltois irrelevant. In this arrangementwhich was conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki, whose music has soundtracked both The Shining and The Exorcist (though not their theme tunes)Gibbons' voice complements the music perfectly. It laments the mortality of humankind with both a kind of horror and a peaceful dread, carrying us through our existence until that, like the last note of this composition, simply disappears. And while there's no need to hear or include the audience's applause at the end, it snaps you out of the existential reverie this piece inspiresat once reminding you that life is something to be enjoyed and celebrated as well as the fact that it will continue long after you're dead and gone. (www.bethgibbons.net

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john
April 3rd 2019
3:05am

examp;e