D. P. (MusicMan) from NEW YORK, NY Reviewed on 8/3/2007...
Dawn Upshaw may be worth the price of admission on this one.
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Like wisps of smoke rising from smoldering mass graves
The Sanity Inspector | USA | 03/13/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have to confess; I resisted this work for a long time, for reasons of anti-fashion. The idea that such an achingly spiritual work like this should become mood music for zinfadel-tippling yuppies was disgusting to me. Of course, to do just the opposite is also to follow fashion. I was only depriving myself, so when I finally sat down and paid serious attention to it, I was as deeply affected as most every other listener was.Poor martyred Poland! Has any country in Europe been kicked around so terribly in the last 200 years as she has? It's a wonder more music like this hasn't been produced by Polish composers. I haven't read anyone who says so, but I suspect that this work was a piece of musical _samizdat_. It was composed in 1976, halfway between the Gdansk protests and repression of 1970 and the Solidarity movement of 1980. The piece makes an obvious connection between Christ and the victims of the Holocaust, but one can easily read allusions to Poland's plight under the Soviet jackboot as well. Consider these verses from the third movement: He lies in the grave/ I know not where/ Though I ask people/ Everywhere/ Perhaps the poor boy/ Lies in a rough trench/ Instead of lying, as he might,/ In a warm bed. This could as easily refer to the massacred Polish officers at Katyn as to the victims of Auschwitz.There have been other symphonic evocations of death. There were the fever-dreams of the condemned man in Berlioz' _Symphony Fantastique_. There was the bat-winged medieval Angel of Death in Suk's _Asrael_. There was Bruckner's Symphony no. 9, which may as well have "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" embossed on it. And there was Mahler's Ninth, with his joys and despairs all jumbled together and arcing apart until everything just expires in that wispy, plaintive coda. But a single death is a tragedy, and a million deaths are a statistic. How can the sorrow of millions of deaths, millions of scarred souls, millions of muzzled spirits, millions of maimed lives be put across in music? Apparently, like this. Simply and directly, without a lot of flailing orchestration.The turbid rumble of double-basses at the opening clear away into a sad tune as the strings climb the scale. It's the cinematic equivalent of a slow fade-in, or a long dolly-in to closeup. And then there is Ms. Upshaw's voice, which is as lovely as can be. Then back down the scale we go, into darkness.The other two movements are much in the manner of the Estonian composer Arvo Part, widely labeled "minimalist", but really the opposite of the soulless work of better-known western composers in that idiom. The music is haunting, beautiful in its simplicity. Gorecki has been reported as being startled at the huge response the symphony elicited abroad, and he has since reverted back to his avant-garde noise-making. Maybe he suspects that he may never connect so profoundly with a wide audience again. No matter. This symphony was an event, and is a keeper."
Gorecki - Spiritual and Emotional
Brett A. Kniess | Madison, WI | 03/31/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Written for the 50th anniversary concert of Hitler's invasion of Poland and the ensuing tragedies, Henryk Gorecki's Symphony No. 3 is a powerful, prayer-like setting of memories of those events. While considered a modern composer, the work is firmly rooted in the tonal world, often creating a mantra/meditative feel; the 1976 composition is as emotional today, as it was in its own time.
The subtitle "Sorrowful Songs" is lost a little in the Polish translation, where the sense of "Wordless song", "prayer and exhortation", and "elegiac and redemptive lullaby" are qualities involved in the literal translation. The unique orchestration (4 flutes, 2 piccolos, 4 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trombones, harp, piano, and full string ensemble) give a full, rich, intimate, chamber sound, but the beauty of a solo soprano voice adds to the absolute quality of the instruments. In three movements, each conveys a prayer in a contrasting, yet peaceful manner. Ingeniously, the 26-minute first movement is dominated simply by a canon; based on a folk song, the tune is taken up by the double-basses in low tessitura, and each voice enters at a fifth. It begins rather muddy in the lower voices, but, the gently shifting, repetitious nature, as well as the natural crescendo (achieved by adding instruments and increasing register) comes to a powerful climax, of which the movement ends the opposite by subtracting voices. 13 minutes into the opening movement, the mood changes from the kaleidoscopic motion of shifting strings, to full chords, piano attacks, and a prayer sung by soprano over huge, lush string chords. The effects of the first movement are intriguing and intense, but highly satisfying. The nine-minute second movement's text was found on the wall of Cell No. 3 in "The Palace", a Gestapo's headquarters in Zakopane, written by an 18-year old imprisoned in 1944. Lush minor chords open the movement with a rising motive. Exclamation of "Mama, mama, do not weep" referring personally and religiously, is heartbreaking. Again, thick and lush string ensemble chords dominate the texture, but rather than the ever-moving canon of the opening, long sustained, slowly-shifting chords support the pleas of the soprano soloist; the movement ends unresolved. Equally heart-wrenching is the text of the third movement; a mother who fears her son has died at the hands of the enemy, and is buried in an unknown land, asks God's flowers to cover and protect her son. The soprano melody is simple and seemingly folk-based, but more active and dramatic than the preceding movement; feelings of hopelessness and utter sorrow are sincerely portrayed with the endless shifting string chords, which seem more sounds of unearthly, or ancient chordal movements. The 17-minute final movement and the whole work ends in A major, full of hopefulness and a feeling that all of our prayers have been received with the genuine sincerity in which they have been given.
David Zinman and the London Sinfonietta make this music sparkle, with a deep, velvety sheen. I do not feel that the work is overly sappy, but sincere and passionate performances. The sound is wonderfully resonant and speaks well; the orchestra plays magnificently and is captured well on recording. Dawn Upshaw is outstanding, both bright and luscious, she gives each movement a different mood, making the work a dramatic experience which unfolds, rather than a set of movements. David Zinman adds nothing that Gorecki doesn't ask for, and the composers' natural intent is given on this recording. Gorecki's music is engaging and in this case, broaches toward minimalism, rooted in tonality and modality, the prayer-like music never becomes boring or merely repetitious, but it all ends too soon. 15 years after the Zinman performance and 30 years after its composition, the work has an amazingly powerful statement and immense spirituality. A must-have recording."
As Emotional As Music Gets
Karl Miller | Phoenixville, PA United States | 05/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I certainly don't have the skills to write a critique of classical performances - but I know what sounds amazing to my own ears, and Gorecki's 3rd draws you in and captivates you like no other music I have ever heard.
The piece is broken down into three movements - Sostenuto Tranquillo Ma Cantabile opens the symphony - this portion is dominated by a 15th century Polish Prayer, sung by the ethereal Dawn Upshaw (with an incredible soprano voice), which is enveloped in strings that sound both maudlin and lush. The entire piece is incredibly soft, yet deeply stirring. This is the portion of #3 that is at the center of the movie "Fearless", one of a number of Hollywood productions that have used Gorecki's Third as a theme.
The Second and Third Movements ("Tranquillisiom and Cantabile Semplice) rework the central themes, and instrumentation of the First movement - Upshaw's heavenly vocals resurface in even more desperate pleas, and the strings slow in tempo, making the emotional effect of the piece even more stirring. One thing that is absolutely captivating about this piece is the way that the strings command your attention without being loud or overbearing.
It's impossible not to be deeply moved by Gorecki's Third. And this recording, with the London Symphony and the incredible Dawn Upshaw is an absolutely perfect recording."
Mournfully Sublime, Healing, Hauntingly Beautiful
Mark Takano (firstname.lastname@example.org | Riverside, CA | 11/19/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was introduced to this piece while laying around my bed on a Sunday morning. Before reading the morning paper, I often luxuriate in the abundance of time half-awake in bed, listening to National Public Radio stories that often feature the arts. That Sunday, NPR aired a piece on popular modern classical music. There was a morning stillness and peace that comes with a full night's sleep and the comfort of knowing that job responsibilities were another day away. Soft light began to peer forth through the blinds. In that moment the radio sounded the gentle movements of the cello cords of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony. There are some experiences of beauty that cause the heart to ache. That was one such moment. My eyes remained shut as my senses heightened. I listened carefully so as to mentally note the composer's name. I love cellos and the human voice. They are deployed lovingly in this piece. I have read that in Greek Mythology, music began as a lament, a suffering. Its root is in loss. If what I read touches upon some truth, then this music goes right to heart of the losses that all of us inevitably encounter. The poem that appears in the liners notes evokes the mournful prayers of a mother who loses her son to a concentration camp. The female voice that one hears is the voice of that mother. The music's effect isn't one of somberness or depression, rather it leaves one in the presence of heartfullness. It is the strength that comes with an open heart. It is redemption through creation and art. Hope."
Unforgettable performance of a musical prayer
rrr338 | 08/24/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an outstanding rendition of Gorecki's Third, capturing the feeling of growing hope and joy that can ultimately break from the shackles of sorrow. Zinman and the London Sinfonietta really understand the mood and philosophy of this piece, and create a wonderfully ambient listening experience. The symphony starts out with a slow tempo, but you sense that something very profound is in the works. These first few moments are one of the finest examples of how a deliberately slow tempo can build up to a "drop everything and pay ATTENTION" sense of drama. Very gradually, as though the slightest slip of impatience might destroy it, the sense of serene joy is allowed expression. Dawn Upshaw's voice is ideally suited to the choral parts, which are more like the human voice being used as yet another instrument. "Haunting" is a word often associated with this piece, and this particular recording surely creates that effect. After listening, you can't help but try to capture bits and pieces of this in your mind, but alas, you cannot. Yet its powerfully serene ambience continues to grip the memory. If you've never tried Gorecki as a composer before, or shy away from the more "modern" classical works, I urge you to give this one a spin... I'd be willing to wager that you will be quite awestruck."