Gorecki: String Quartet No. 3 (‘…songs are sung’)

COMPOSERS: Gorecki
LABELS: Nonesuch
ALBUM TITLE: Górecki
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3 (‘…songs are sung’)
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79993-3
It took ten years of cajoling by Kronos, its dedicatees, to persuade Górecki to release the score of this quartet after he completed it in 1995. The subtitle is drawn from a poem by Khlebnikov ending ‘When people die, they sing songs’, which Górecki prefers to translate as ‘songs are sung’. Whichever, he insists the Quartet is not an interpretation of the poem.

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The Quartet seems to hark back to Górecki’s earlier work, even as far as the Third Symphony (1976) which it recalls, in mood and melodic character, in the four slow movements. The dance-like figures of the relatively brief central movement come as a surprise, but they are eventually stalled by a quote from Szymanowski, and never regain their confidence. These songs are sung in the same way that tunes are whistled in the dark.

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Górecki’s lyricism and faith pervade the piece, but their expression in beautifully-voiced, re-iterated melodies is undercut by acrid harmonies suggesting doubt, grief and mental strife. Kronos vividly yet subtly realise and reconcile these inner conflicts. BarryWitherden