Lisa Gerrard, Genesis Orchestra & Yordan Kamdzhalov
Górecki – Symphony No. 3: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
Besant Hall Records (part of Air-Edel Records)
Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op 36, known as Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, was composed in late 1976. It was premiered the following year in performance and since then there have been over a dozen famous recordings with the piece reaching a cultural zeitgeist in the early 1990s – Dawn Upshaw and the London Sinfionietta conducted by David Zinman; that recording has recently been reissued on vinyl. That’s the recording I first heard and fell in love with, that’s the recording that was used to accompany images of the Bosnian war crisis in the early 1990s.
I’ve been under the spell of this music since then.
In recent years there have been impressive recordings by sopranos including Barbara Tritt, Susan Gritton and Ewa Izykowska.
Last year, Beth Gibbons of the band Portishead, released a stunning effort with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. That version no doubt introduced a whole new audience to this famous, affecting work.
In line with the Gibbons version and harking back to the famous Upshaw recording is this offering by Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard with the young Bulgarian conductor and arranger Yordan Kamdzhalov and his Genesis Orchestra.
The double basses and cellos in the grueling build of the first movement (Lento – Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile) do the scene-setting work across this 27 minute slow-burn. When Gerrard’s distinctive voice appears it is but a thin sketch, a hint of what is to come.
The full effect of Gerard’s contribution can be felt in the final 16-minute section (Lento – Cantabile-semplice) and in the lighter middle piece (the nine-minute second movement (Lento e largo – Tranquillissimo).
The orchestra is calm, precise beneath as piano, harp and horns join with the cellos and other strings.
The gently searing melody is put into place more fully in the third and final movement and this is where Gerarrd’s voice becomes the showcase. Such power and authority. Recognisable from her own movie scores and the many spine-tingling Dead Can Dance moments but fully respectful of this work.
Kamdzhalov phases the strings in and out behind Gerrard’s voice here in a clever effect that gives the soprano centre-stage but full support.
The resolution of this piece is always a nearly emotionally overwhelming moment – and so it is with this new recordings.
Vehadi is a bonus track to this recording – a coda that offers Gerrard’s voice in a framework more similar to what her fans are used to hearing. You have the option of course of stopping the album after the Gorecki – but I’m enjoying this new take with a ‘bonus cut’. If anything it makes more sense to be whisked away in a new direction and the middle eastern string treatment is the perfect evocation of some of Gerrard’s earlier works.
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