Gorecki: Symphony No. 3

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LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Christine Brewer (soprano); Atlanta SO/Donald Runnicles


Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is a remarkable phenomenon amongst modern compositions. Written in October-December 1976 and premiered in Germany in April 1977, it was popular in Poland but remained largely unknown elsewhere until the recording by the London Sinfonietta under David Zinman was released in 1992. Frequent radio broadcasts resulted in the CD becoming a massive best-seller.

Exceptional quality was rewarded with exceptional success. Dawn Upshaw sang with immaculate clarity and purity, but also with deep feeling, and the whole recording was almost unbearably beautiful. I vividly recall the first time I heard it and struggled to reconcile my sensuous pleasure in the sound with the heart-breaking nature of the symphony’s subject-matter. (Part of the text is taken from graffiti inscribed by a teenage prisoner on a wall in Gestapo HQ in Zakopane.)


The perfection of that interpretation casts a daunting shadow, but Runnicles, Brewer and the Atlanta SO have staked out their own territory admirably. The first movement is nearly four minutes faster than Zinman’s but works superbly. Brewer’s rich voice and subtle inflections are sufficiently personal to distinguish her equally fine interpretation from Upshaw’s, and at times there is an edge that will appeal to anyone who found the earlier recording to be perhaps just a little too celestial. Barry Witherden