Gorecki: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Christine Brewer, soprano; Donald Runnicles, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  Telarc CD-80699.

A recording of Polish composer Henryk Gorecki's (b. 1933) Symphony No. 3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" by David Zinman and the London Sinfonietta in 1991 (Elektra Nonesuch) followed the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of Germany's invasion of Poland. The recording became something of a crossover sensation, and Gorecki and his 1976 symphony acquired a renewed international recognition. I wasn't sure how well the composition was holding up over the years, but now Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony take a crack at it on Telarc, so I suppose the company figures there's still life in the work. I wish them well.

The Third Symphony is in three movements, each movement based on a different poem about the loss of a child. The booklet note tells us that Gorecki is a devout Catholic and a highly spiritual man, so there is no surprise that his Third Symphony should be hugely ethereal in nature, each movement proceeding slowly and languorously forward. Frankly, it had been at least a decade since I last listened to it, and I was surprised by how morbidly lugubrious it seemed, incorporating lamentations, exhortations, poetry, and folk music in rather overtly bathetic fashion. This time around it did not seem so spiritual or ethereal to me.

I wondered after listening to this new rendition whether perhaps my less-than-enthusiastic welcome of it was really due to the music, the interpretation, or the sound.  I'm going with the sound. Compared to the Electra Nonesuch recording, the newer, Telarc sonics are warmer, softer, fuller, billowier, and foggier. The Nonesuch sonics are more transparent and go a long way toward lessening the work's otherwise funereal tone.  Nevertheless, if the music inspires you, certainly Runnicles performs it as well as anybody.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa