Gorecki: A film by Tony Palmer

COMPOSERS: Gorecki
LABELS: Voiceprint
ALBUM TITLE: Górecki: The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
WORKS: A film by Tony Palmer

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PERFORMER: Dawn Upshaw (soprano); London Sinfonietta/David Zinman

CATALOGUE NO: TPDVD 102 (NTSC system; stereo; 16:9 picture format)
Górecki’s Third Symphony, completed in 1976, only made its mark with the release of the London Sinfonietta’s 1992 recording, which was top of the classical record charts for 26 weeks. The phenomenon prompted Channel 4 to commission this film, eventually shown on ITV’s South Bank Show.

The film includes an interview with Górecki and a performance of the Symphony illustrated with newsreels of famine and war and specially-shot sequences inside Auschwitz. Linked with such compassionate music, images of emptied Zyklon-gas canisters, fly-infested wounds on starving children and an extended beating meted out by Balkan soldiers somehow seem even more horrific. The final shot shows a bemused-looking Górecki unable to find words for things he has seen.

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It is a tribute to the power of the music as well as the images that this film often reduced me to tears and made me feel sick in my stomach and soul. There are no extras since there is nothing to say beyond what the music, images and interview convey. The packaging is appropriately stark and simple, containing only texts used in the Symphony and a brief note in which Palmer opines that the Symphony bears witness to the bloodiest century ever, the blame for which lays not just with monstrous dictators but with ‘liberal democracies who allow countless millions to starve to death’.