Gorecki: Kleines Requiem für eine Polka; Harpsichord Concerto; Good Night

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COMPOSERS: Gorecki
LABELS: Nonesuch
WORKS: Kleines Requiem für eine Polka; Harpsichord Concerto; Good Night
PERFORMER: Elzbieta Chojnacka (harpsichord), Dawn Upshaw (soprano)London Sinfonietta/David Zinman, Markus Stenz
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79362-2 DDD
Kleines Requiem für eine Polka (1993) offers an opening movement of familiar Góreckian sounds: slow, quiet reiterations of what might be fragments of chant or folksong, an eruption of ritualistic grandeur. The second movement shocks you out of this with its sudden motoric energy, but this doesn’t last long. It’s the third movement that really lets you have it: ribald oompah rhythms, a jauntily obsessive little tune, garish dissonances. Then, in the finale, the hymnody returns, a tolling accompaniment and fuller texture now making it more like Ives in reflective mood.

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Irony, parody, just jeu d’esprit? Not the latter, say David Drew’s typically lucid booklet notes. But even he’s not giving much away. Actually I don’t think he has the faintest idea; and neither do I. Is it a polka, is it a requiem? No, it’s a fantasy delighting in its own, very Polish, inscrutability.

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The shortest 20th-century Harpsichord Concerto (1980) is now also nearly its most popular, and certainly among the most exuberant; Elzbieta Chojnacka, the work’s dedicatee, is a vivid and powerful soloist. Good Night (1990) makes slow, spare and evocative use of an alto flute and piano joined, much later, by a solo soprano and three tam-tams, in a memorial to Michael Vyner, the London Sinfonietta’s former artistic director that, over almost half an hour, seldom raises its voice at all. Keith Potter