About this Recording
8.572872 - GÓRECKI, H.: Concerto-Cantata / Little Requiem for a Certain Polka / 3 Dances (Gorecka, Wincenc, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit)

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933–2010)
Little Requiem for a Certain Polka Concerto-Cantata • Harpsichord Concerto (piano version) • Three Dances


Henryk Mikołaj Górecki was born on 6 December 1933 in Czernica, Silesia. He studied music at the High School (now Academy) of Music in Katowice, graduating with distinction in 1960 from the class of Bolesław Szabelski (who had been taught by Szymanowski). Górecki gave his début concert as a composer in 1958 in Katowice, which in turn led to hearings at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music that included his First Symphony in 1959 and Scontri (Collisions) in 1960—the former piece going on to win first prize at the 1961 Biennial Festival of Youth in Paris. If the style of Górecki’s compositions in his earlier years owed a considerable amount to Bartók and Stravinsky, by the start of the following decade it had been supplemented by elements of post-Webern expressionism as well as a selective use of free serial technique.

Górecki’s 1960s output centres on the cyclical works Genesis I–III (1962–3) and La Musiquette I–IV (1967–70), both of which are scored for chamber ensembles. While Genesis adheres to the Polish ‘expressive sonorism’, simplification of material is evident in Les Musiquettes. These cycles were separated by the orchestral Refrain, for which Górecki received third prize at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris in 1967. Refrain can now be seen as a turning-point in his musical aesthetic—the use of imposing blocks of sound with textural clusters, and above all the reverberating ‘space’ around the musical activity, heralds such pieces as the Second Symphony ‘Copernicus’ (1963) [Naxos 8.555375) and the Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1976) [8.550822], which was belatedly to accord the composer international status during the 1990s.

Despite this work’s success Górecki continued steadfastly on the highly personal route he had chosen after having composed it, as if reluctant to capitalize on his unexpected fame. Then he had waited over three years before producing his next large-scale work, the choral Beatus Vir (1979) [8.555375) written to mark the first return visit to Poland of Pope Jean Paul II. This was followed by the monumental Miserere for unaccompanied voices (1981), written in support of the Polish trade union Solidarity, while chamber music was represented by such pieces as Lerchenmusik (1986) and three string quartets composed for the Kronos Quartet between 1988 and 1995. Górecki’s later years were clouded by illness and largely given over to shorter choral and instrumental pieces, though he was working on a Fourth Symphony at the time of his death in Katowice on 10 November 2010.

Of the pieces featured on this disc, the first two are the largest ensemble works from the composer’s final creative phase. Scored for piano and thirteen instruments, Kleines Requiem für eine Polka (1993) was written for the Schoenberg Ensemble and its conductor Reinbert de Leeuw, and was first performed by them in Amsterdam on 12 June 1993. Musically it continues on from Lerchenmusik in its juxtaposing a wide range of moods within a cohesive overall form that yet threatens to break apart given the unequivocal nature of the actual material.

The first movement opens with bells and piano in gentle alternation, the latter gradually outlining a phrase that is joined by a keening melody on violin as the expressive range increases. The full forces suddenly break out in an intense unison chant before vanishing almost as rapidly to leave things much as before—piano and bells remaining to bring about a hushed yet uneasy close over static chords on the strings. The second movement bursts in with a jagged unison idea on brass and strings, punctuated by strident piano chords, which gradually mutates in its rhythm as it evolves. The intensity subsides to leave solo clarinet and horn sounding plaintively over fateful piano chords, to which strings respond with quietly unexpected affirmation. The third movement now takes off with a polka idea that is unfolded aggressively by the full ensemble, punctuated only by a brief silence before resuming its hectic course. A further extended pause, then the fourth movement begins with a subdued chorale-like theme on the strings, its progress marked off by bells, to which brass add their solemn presence as the work heads to a rapt close with just the quietest of discords on piano then bells to recall earlier events.

Completed barely a year before, Concerto-Cantata (1992) for flute and orchestra was given a first hearing in Amsterdam on 28 November 1992 by Carol Wincenc with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Eri Klas. The hybrid title is explained by its movements each having a title reminiscent of those found in the ‘sacred concerts’ from the high Baroque era, though the musical content is determinedly of its own time.

The Recitativo consists of a sombre unaccompanied soliloquy rendered in the flute’s lowest register, which gradually opens-out in expression before suddenly being confronted by stark phrases from unison brass and strings. From here the Arioso commences with the soloist pursuing its inward melodic line over static chords on lower strings and harp, growing in expressive intensity until the Concertino is launched with a capricious exchange between flute and strings. These then merge into a hectic dance-like idea with wind and percussion much in evidence, alternating with a more equable theme before those earlier exchanges are resumed and the music builds to a violent climax on full orchestra. This subsides quickly, however, then the Arioso e corale finale begins with a literal return to the second movement’s rapt vein of melancholy, before the soloist leads hesitantly into a halting motion on strings which brings about a final though not necessarily serene catharsis.

The Concerto for Harpsichord/Piano and Strings (1980) was written for harpsichordist Elżbieta Chojnacka, who gave the première in Katowice on 2 March 1980 with the Polish Radio Symphony and Stanisław Wislócki. Since then its subversive take on musical post-modernism has provoked delight and dismay in equal measure.

The first movement opens with a coursing motion for unison strings with piano providing a no less intensive accompaniment. This continues on its purposeful course with just the occasional pause until reaching a held cadential chord from which the second movement sets off with a vaunting idea for the soloist against mock-Classical figuration on strings. This duly takes in passages of contrasting harmonic profile without disrupting the prevailing rhythmic motion, prior to a sudden stalling on strings and a final nonchalant gesture from piano.

The Three Dances (1973) constitute the earliest work featured here, receiving their première in Rybnik on 24 November 1973 by the Rybnik Philharmonic Symphony and Antoni Szafranek. The result is one of Górecki’s most immediate and approachable pieces: a suite of highly contrasting dances that makes virtuoso use of a large orchestra and is the nearest in spirit that the composer came to the folk-inflected directness of his older contemporary Wojciech Kilar. That such a piece has not achieved greater popularity is the more surprising.

The first dance is launched with a striding theme for full orchestra whose rhythmic motion has a Stravinskian impetus, enhanced by chordal gestures from the brass. The second dance opens in the greatest contrast with undulating lower strings supporting an affecting melody on violins, which pursues a ruminative course as the dynamics increase then the music resumes its earlier mood on the way to a questioning conclusion. The third dance starts with a lively bassoon idea over tramping strings, taken on by clarinet then oboe and flute, before full strings and woodwind enter the fray and the theme duly emerges in vibrant splendour on full orchestra.

Richard Whitehouse

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