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Henryk Mikołaj GÓRECKI (1933-2010)
Symphony No.3, Op.36 ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (Symfonia pieśni żałosnych) (1976) [50:53]
Yvonne Kenny (soprano)
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
rec. Adelaide Town Hall, 4-6 September 2000. DDD
Texts and translations included
ABC 4812523 [50:53]
Reissued from ABC 4720402.

You could easily be forgiven for thinking that the recordings made back when this work gained something of a cult status, mainly thanks to ClassicFM c.1993, had pretty well sewn up the recommendations, with the Nonesuch recording at the top of the pile. (Dawn Upshaw, London Sinfonietta and David Zinman, 7559792822). Bargain lovers have a very fine runner-up, more generously coupled than its competitors, from Zofia Kilanowicz, the Polish Radio SO and Antoni Wit (Naxos 8.550822). A third choice, again with Polish forces, on the defunct Olympia label is no longer in the running. Like the Nonesuch the ABC recording offers only the symphony whereas the Naxos couples Three Pieces in the Olden Style, as did the Olympia.

Those were my thoughts as I opened the new CD, a mid-price reissue of an ABC recording first issued in 2002 and now released as Volume 97 of their ‘1000 Years of Classical Music’ series. I was wrong: this is a strong contender among the 24 versions currently on offer and the music, which I must admit I hadn’t listened to for a very long time, holds up very well. Perhaps it will be seen in future centuries as one of the abiding classics of Western music.

Yvonne Kenny rivals Dawn Upshaw in every respect, if anything hitting her notes more clearly and firmly without missing any of the sadness, inherent in the title and the choice of texts, which Upshaw finds in the music. She floats her voice over the orchestra without being overwhelmed or over-prominent. She’s very well supported by the Adelaide orchestra and Takuo Yuasa, especially in the long first movement. The cellos and basses as the music dies at the end of the movement are as evocative as Kenny’s singing.

The emotional heart of the work is the second movement and here Kenny and the orchestra are suitably more subdued in tone. Appropriately this movement features on an ABC 2-CD recording entitled The Divine Yvonne Kenny. Yuasa’s tempi are on the fast side throughout but here, at 8:46, he shaves a whole minute off the time of the Upshaw/Zinman recording, with most other recordings also taking around ten minutes. Yet I didn’t think the tempo one whit too fast on the ABC recording.

In the finale, too, though again around a minute faster than Upshaw and Zinman and two minutes faster than Joanna Koslowska and Kazimierz Kord with the Warsaw Philharmonic on various Decca permutations, Kenny’s and Yuasa’s interpretation fits the music like a glove. Did I say that the second movement was the emotional heart? This performance makes it clear that the finale is no slouch either and here Kenny sounds at times uncannily like Upshaw in her other famous recording of Samuel Barber’s wonderful Knoxville, Summer of 1915 (Nonesuch 7559791872, again with David Zinman).

There’s nothing second-rate about the recording, either. The booklet is slim but it contains the texts and translations – not always a given with less expensive reissues – and helpful notes on the composer and music.

Your target price for the ABC reissue is £8.25, a small price to pay for a recording of this hypnotic work as good as any that I have heard. Subscribers to emusic.com can download the original release for a mere £1.26 in 320 kb/s mp3 but they won’t get the booklet notes.

Brian Wilson


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