Gorecki: Symphony No. 2 (Copernican); Beatus vir

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COMPOSERS: Gorecki
LABELS: Stradivarius
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’.

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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