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Album Review: Sorrow: Reimagining of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony by Colin Stetson
Excellent, Based on 7 Critics
Drowned In Sound - 100 Based on rating 10/10
Consciously or unconsciously, it’s more than likely that most folk will have a certain level of awareness of Henryk Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony, or as it’s often referred to, ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’. There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly since its re-release by Elektra-Nonesuch in 1992, it sold over a million copies, and secondly it has seeped into popular culture through various guises, be it on soundtracks like Terrance Malik’s To the Wonder, or as sampled by Lamb on their 1996 record ‘Gorecki’. Through the very fact there are a million physical or digital copies knocking around, and its use in other artistic ventures, mean it has hung in the air for many years now finding its way into the collective consciousness.
Sorrow is a radical, challenging reinterpretation of Górecki's symphony, but it is also an accessible one. Stetson and his ensemble deliver a musically diverse, acute, deep reading that underlines its intention as an extended, focused, powerful, and utterly beautiful meditation on unspeakable loss. .
Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 is a masterpiece of minimalism. It makes sense, then, that a fellow master of the minimal – avant-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson – should reappraise the Polish composer’s most famous work. Like Max Richter’s retooled Vivaldi LP, this is a fresh, inventive take on a classical standard.
The story of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 (often called "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs") is one of a runaway success nobody, even its composer, understood. Why did a 1992 recording of a work written 16 years earlier by a previously unknown Polish composer suddenly sell a million copies? Other modern Polish composers’ works weren’t exactly leaping off shelves.
If you’re as much of a noob as I am when it comes to classical music (even of the contemporary variety), some context is in order before listening to SORROW, Colin Stetson’s reimagining of Henryk Górecki’s 3rd Symphony. Consisting of three movements, the composition was hatched in 1977, with each section centering around a different recited (or, more accurately, sung) text. The first is a lament from the Virgin Mary to Jesus Christ; the second a message scrawled by a Polish gestapo prisoner to her mother during World War II; the third a grief-laden folk song about a dead soldier in the Silesian uprisings.
In the last five years, Colin Stetson has graduated from musical collaborator for many well-renowned bands (Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, TV on the Radio, Feist) to a respected artist in his own right. 2011's New History Warefare Vol. 2: Judges was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and won widespread critical acclaim. Since then he has been fascinating audiences with literally breathtaking one-man shows of physical endurance and musical genius.
Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, also known as the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, came at a time of transition for the composer. The Polish composer wrote the symphony in 1977 and had, to that point, been a part of the avant-garde movement in classical music. After his Third Symphony, though, he would turn to more tonal music. This piece, stuck in between those times, mines repetition in a fresh, experimental way, but it also feels sweeping and tuneful throughout.