Here's your disc of the week for Jan. 13, 2013. Each week CBC Radio 2's In Concert looks at new classical music releases and selects one recording that you'll want to know about.
Artists: Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Axelrod with soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.
Repertoire: Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, by Henryk Górecki.
Who would have thought that an hour-long symphony, featuring a soprano singing in Polish, built upon dark, brooding harmonies, would become an international sensation in the 1990s?
But that's exactly what happened when a recording of Polish composer Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3 was released in 1992 on the Nonesuch label with the American soprano Dawn Upshaw as the featured soloist. More than one million copies were sold and Górecki, until then an obscure Eastern European symphonist with a reputation for writing radical compositions that abandoned conventional notions of rhythm and harmony, became an international sensation. Something about this slow, sombre symphony exploring notions of longing and loss touched a chord in listeners, and Górecki's music came to represent the zeitgeist of the late 20th century.
Górecki uses emotionally resonant texts in each movement. In the first, it's a 15th-century Polish lament of the Holy Cross. The second, only four lines long, uses words written on the walls of a Gestapo cell by an 18-year old Polish prisoner. The third, from a Silesian folk song, tells of a mother searching for her lost son.
Since that 1992 release, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs has been recorded well over a dozen times. This latest, and most welcome, version on the Sony label comes care of the Danish Symphony Orchestra with Canada's own Isabel Bayrakdarian as soloist. This work is clearly close to the singer's heart. She's performed it many times, once as part of a memorial concert performed inside Auschwitz in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. That performance forms part of a documentary entitled Holocaust: A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz which won an international Emmy award for art programs in 2005.
As the composer once remarked about the surprise success of his third symphony, "perhaps people find something they need in this piece of music. Somehow I hit the right note, something they were missing. Something, somewhere had been lost to them. I feel that I instinctively knew what they needed."
Here's another performance featuring Isabel Bayrakdarian as a point of comparison.
It's worth noting that in Canada this is a digital release only. We got our copy on iTunes, but it's available on a multitude of services as a digital product.
Isabel Bayrakdarian on CBC Music
Górecki Remarks on Performing the Third Symphony
Further Listening; John Tavener's Protecting Veil
on Jan 13, 2013