Henryk Gorecki: Symphony 3 "Sorrowful Songs"
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This album, which catapulted Polish composer Henryk Gorecki to into the international spotlight, takes texts born in pain and turns them into statements of affirmation through the use of music that ebbs and flows in mystic minimalism. The clear voice of soprano Dawn Upshaw, singing the Polish texts, is a large part of the success of this particular recording, but the music, contemporary without either dissonance or movie-music mawkishness, clarifies and uplifts the words. This is a moving and essential element of the modern repertoire. --Sarah Bryan Miller

Customer Reviews:

  • An important emotional journey
    Gorecki's 3rd symphony is something to listen to, first, to understand the important history of Poland and second, to allow yourself to become completely undone emotionally and put back together again--and better for it. It is a very moving symphony. Dawn Upshaw's voice is transcendent. Benjamin Britten's, "War Requiem" is another highly recommended CD of similar scope to own and listen to over and over. It is highly recommended to read the poetry in the liner notes in both of these CD's to understand the music completely--as any astute music lister would do....more info
  • sad, sad music
    I have only one complaint, and it might be a little nontraditional: the first movement of the symphony...I'd swear I've heard it in a war movie or the like...some sad scene on a battlefield strewn with soldiers' bodies and drifting smoke. For some reason, thinking this takes something away from the piece for me. Stupid, I know. But once you're past the first movement, it is stunning. And of course, w/o the Hollywood images rolling through my head, the first movement would be stunning as well. ...more info
  • One of the most beautiful works of all time
    I remember standing in a classical Tower Records store years ago when I heard this playing for the first time. I literally couldn't speak I was so riveted and over come by the hauting beauty of this music. As an operatic soprano I can only imagine the intense experience Dan Upshaw had in recording this album. She sings it exquisitely. This is a work that rips you out of what ever is going on and pulls you into its own world. It leaves you breathless....more info
  • a flood of tears
    I first heard this piece and this recording my freshman year of college. I was transfixed. I had no idea what the singing was about (apparently prayers written on the wall at Auschwitz). The music just conveys a profound sadness and I am unable to listen to this piece without completely losing it and drowning in tears. This is one of the 20'th centuries greatest classical compositions.

    This piece builds very slowly, but the second half of the first movement and both the 2'nd and the third movements are breathtaking. Dawn Upshaw's singing is really a treat. I definitely need to hear some other recordings with her.
    ...more info
  • Beautiful Music
    The music itself,is just wonderful. The symphony has been composed with such 'feeling,and the soprano Dawn Upshaw has a glorious voice. This C.D. is well worth a listen.Lea....more info
  • Exquisite music for a cold wintry gray day......
    This symphony is hauntingly beautiful and slowly lures you into its reverent mood. Dawn Upshaw's vocal performance is like another instrument in the orchestra - so gently does its sound become heard. One can easily visualize monks during vespers - transporting you to a different time and place. I am enjoying this CD more each time I listen to it. A remarkable piece and perfect music to accompany the reading of a good book. I highly recommend it....more info
  • emotion empowered through music
    simply the most moving piece of music i've experienced...more info
  • Sad and beautiful
    Even if you not much into 20th century or "modern" classical music, you might still like this symphony by Poland's Henryk Gorecki. It is written in the minimalist style that was first popularized by Philip Glass. And like the music of Glass it is repetitive and trance-like. However, Gorecki also has a great deal of individualism; his music is very personal and emotional. This symphony features a female voice that sings of losing a child in World War II. It touches upon the horror of war in a way that is very sad, but extremely beautiful as it also touches upon the power and mystery of the mother-child relationship. I first heard this recording on the radio, and after only a few minutes of hearing it, I went out to buy it. The final movement of the symphony is just a masterpeice in itself. ...more info
  • Gorecki - Spiritual and Emotional
    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....more info
  • Henryk Gorecki: Symphony 3 "Sorrowful Songs"
    This is a beautiful CD with music that floats in and out of my conciousness. Beautifully ethereal and suddenly dissonent and sad. Sometimes I have it on as background music and am suddenly awoken to the voice in the background calling me softly to attention, to presence....more info
  • #3 exposes all our horror and pain into a thing of beauty
    Henryk Gorecki's creative spirit must run so deep that it punctures through the very core of Earth's lava center. For "Symphony No. 3" builds in much the same way as Barber's "Adagio For Strings" as it slowly resurrects from the depths of nonexistence/absolute blackness and eventually soars to the heights of humanity's greatest measure: that most exquisite and eternal kind of beauty all mankind craves. This symphony is a thing of sacred beauty, a moment you wish would never end. It reaches inward and infinitely beyond the horror and pain of life. Dawn Upshaw's voice fully embraces the human condition, and then exeeds and exceeds into a place we cannot physically enter. Except when we see and hear and feel such a thing of beauty as this....more info
  • All the Sorrow of the 20th Century in One Recording
    Gorecki's Third could be nicknamed the "War symphony." In this remarkable recording you will find all the grief and tears of the last bloody century expressed in unforgettable music. The first movement accumulates more and more power as it goes until it breaks into a restrained but hugely emotional outpouring of sorrow; it sounds a little like Philip Glass meets Mahler. Dawn Upshaw sings like an angel in the other movements as a prisoner in a Gestapo jail and a mother looking for the body of a child killed in a massacre. This is in many ways the musical version of the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C.; tears and even reconciliation are not far off. A great 20th century piece of music....more info
  • Minimalist perhaps, but powerful expression
    Who said that minimalism was not a good vehicle for powerful emotions? This performance certainly sets the record straight. The ample crescendos, and decrescendos, of the work, the powerful interpretation of Ms. Upsahw, the tight conducting of Mr. Zinamn make this one of those memorable moments in music recording. I should know: the first time I heard it I was driving and had to stop to get the CD and run home to play it over, and over. However, there is something very special about this particular CD: no other interpretation carries the day the way the interpreters do here. Actually, the extraordinary success of this CD has perhaps played against other works from the composer. But should we care? Mr. Gorecki was only too lucky to find Mr. Zinman and Ms. Upshaw meeting at a moment of greatness and unison....more info
  • Like wisps of smoke rising from smoldering mass graves
    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....more info

  • Haunting
    This recording is a mesmerizing adventure. You have made a journey when you listen to this music. It's minimalist structures make for a distilling and concentration of emotion that is other-wordly. Upshaw's singing is sublime and Zinman gets the most out of the London Sinfonietta. BUY IT!...more info
  • Try Listening to This While Going Through a Debris Field
    For some reason I listened to this while my Amtrak slowly made its way past a cargo train derailment debris field in New Mexico. It was earily appropriate. It was winter, snow was on the ground and the cargo carriers were rust, brown and black casting the whole scene in a kind of black and white montage. It was like watching "Schindler's List" roll by my window. It was very moving....more info
  • Superb! Deep and amazingly performed
    Gorecki belongs to the Great Fours, as the group of composers of Polish contemporary music is called, and this piece is probably the most popular one. If someone was not familiar with for. ex. Pendercki, Gorecki is more likely to be recognized, even by people who are not much in love with classical music. Gorecki is rooted in tradition, religious mysticism and folk music of his native country. But he is not the prisoner of tradition or slave of the sources of his inspiration.

    The music and the words are moving. Deep sorrow, yet also peace. All performers do superb job. The orchestra, the conductor and Dawn Upshaw. She has such voice that it really draws you into some universe on its own. It made me chocked with emotions. And she does great singing out the Polish words, with great clarity. (This language is so difficult to pronounce, and difficult to sing in opera. The sounds are not so clear like for example in Italian).

    Someone doesn't need to be a lover of classical music: if I remember right this music ranked high on charts of popular music, like once the chants of Benedictine monks did. I think it is music for everyone, just let you being carried by it. I am sure it will steer deep emotions, and be in a little bit meditative mood.Of course reactions vary from time to time, one day we can perceive more sorrow and anguish, one day more sadness and peace.Highly recommend!...more info
  • Heart Rending
    This CD is the one I turn to when I need to release emotional tension...and it never fails to deliver! I have never listened to it without crying, and that is wonderful for it allows my heart, soul, and mind to open up and truly feel...the music and the message. Anyone with an ear for evocative music will love the emotions it brings to the surface, and Dawn Upshaw seems to become one with the music delivering magically. In this hectic world, this album is food for the soul!...more info
  • A morbid thought, maybe, but I want the 1st movement played at my funeral Mass. All 26 minutes of it!
    I imagine my spirit slowly rising, then making a grand statement, and then being whisked off at the conclusion of Dawn Upshaw's masterful singing, followed by a sense of settling down ... nothing remaining but a spiritless body....more info
  • Incredible piece of music!
    This is one of those CD's that everyone must own. One of the most beautiful and stirring pieces I've ever come across. Very sad, but uplifting and hopeful for the future. I cry every time I listen to this music. Buy and enjoy whenever you need to get in touch with your soul....more info
  • Polish lament
    I am not a trained musician and cannot speak in such terms. However, I can speak to the emotion I felt as I listened to this music. I find this work particularly moving from the near silence of the beginning of the first movement to the plaintive prayer to Our Lady in the last. To me this is a piece of quiet power; the gradual crescendo of sound to Dawn Upshaw's first soaring soprano and gradual decrescendo to near silence in the first movement, the soulful prayer to the Holy Mother in the second movement. In the third movement where one might expect anger I heard the despairing lament and final quiet resolution. I do not speak Polish but am familiar with the sounds of the language. Dawn Upshaw sings with such clarity that I was able to follow the Polish libretto without difficulty. I am not Catholic but can hear the strong faith in this piece. I believe that even if one is not religious the beauty of this work will move one. ...more info
  • Play at night loudly
    This is one of very few works of modern classical music that actually SOUNDS GOOD. From the first deep rumblings of the double basses to the ending coda with limp piano, this work BREATHES a strong emotion that is somewhere between sadness and hope, but it's not actually either one.......more info
  • Suffering at its acme
    This symphony is poignant because it is the lamentations of three women. It is so rare to have the direct lamentations of three women, of women as for that. Most of the time such lamentations are indirect, captured through the eye and the pen of a man of some sort. Anne Franks are rare in this world. And Maries are just as little numerous. The first woman is this Mary herself expressing her sorrow on Jesus and his death. She wants to take over the wounds and the suffering. The second is the prayer of an eighteen year old girl in a gestapo cell in Poland where she must have lived her last days and hours, a prayer to the intercessor - Mary again - to help her live her death through. The third one is that of a mother who has lost her son to the war - we assume - or whatever any violent event and who thinks of her total state of forlornness that her life is going to be with no intercessor or accompanier for her to walk up to death, with no son anymore, not even a body, not event a grave, not even anything that could give some materiality to his existence, to her solace. Strange progression that then reminds us of the fact that the man-composer is the one telling us the story, unwrapping, unrolling and spreading out the three lamentations. Then the symphony reveals another story, another meaning. The admiration for both Jesus, the victim, and Mary, his mother. The immense communion in the serene and apprehensive suffering of the young woman standing on the threshold of victimized death, the man witness feeling horror surging up in his silent throat. And finally the man-composer disappearing in the last movement like the missing body of that boy taken away by a war or a revolution of some kind. Gorecki is able to recreate or rediscover the power of the compositions and singing of Hildegarde von Bingen. Entirely introspective, introvertly-oriented. The lamentation is addressed to the lamenting person herself. It is as if the whole horror of history was entirely contained in our own souls, minds and spirits, as if we were the alpha and the omega of the whole suffering plus every single moment of it in between, from this alpha to that omega self-contemplative lamentation. And her tears can become ours. And maybe we can share the deep gnawing evil of life for some transient moments.

    Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine & University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne
    ...more info
  • From Earth to Heaven
    This CD is like the ghost of battle victims rising to heaven- Dawn Upshaw's voice is that beautiful. The songs are slow, but the emotion of the music waxes and wanes to increasingly richer osciallations until it overflows in bounteous color. The liner notes on this particular CD give a very interesting story on the history of this Opera, why it was written, and the anti-war poem it expresses. For anyone who remembers WWI or WWII and who likes opera, this CD may have the effect of bringing tears to your eyes....more info