WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Copernican); Beatus vir
PERFORMER: Emese Soós (soprano), Tamás Altorjay (baritone)Bartók Chorus, Fricsay SO/Tamás Pál
CATALOGUE NO: STR 33324 DDD (distr. Priory)
Górecki’s Second Symphony – from 1972, but previously unavailable on CD – consists of two movements of almost equal length. The first is austerely repetitive, sometimes highly dissonant, but also occasionally calmly whole-tone and pentatonic, and familiarly apocalyptic even at its most abrasive moments. At this movement’s conclusion, the choir reveals that the work as a whole is about God’s creation of the world, singing in Latin a line from Psalm 146: ‘God, who made heaven and earth’. The second movement, adding soprano and baritone soloists, takes up this theme in a sometimes more triadic, elsewhere basically pentatonic, manner, setting both words from Psalm 136 and – to what I take to be a 15th-century chant – a quotation from Copernicus that gives the symphony its title; it concludes with what the eccentric booklet notes call ‘the longest chords in musical history’.
More varied stylistically than the famous Third Symphony, more substantial than the First, the Second would be worth buying, had the unfamiliar Hungarian forces, performing for a little-known Italian label, not been so ill-at-ease, and had the recording been of professional standard. Performance and recording of the impressive Beatus vir (dating from 1979 and more consistently like the Third Symphony) are, again, simply unrecommendable; though far from perfect, the recent Argo recording is in a different class. Keith Potter