1972, 1975, 1979, 1981, 1994, Music

Miserere et. al (1994) by Henryk Gorecki, performed by John Nelson et al.

This is a collection of Gorecki’s choral music, mostly performed by choruses from Chicago. (Yet another release where the performers differ from track to track! I really need to get over this.) Fortunately, I wouldn’t have known that, if they didn’t tell me. So that’s something.

The “Miserere” is an incredible piece of music. I know choral music a lot less well than I know concertos, string quartets or piano sonatas, for example – so that means I really don’t know them – but this feels massively significant – in addition to it being greatly affecting – even without knowing the structure, which, once I read about it, is kind of cool. This piece is exactly the kind of thing one would hope for in the face of tragic events. For me the text is rather irrelevant – though obviously the history of the setting is not, and it’s pretty interesting – and it’s the power of the massed voices, and their original juxtaposition, that makes this so compelling. Otherwise, I’m kind of at a loss for words about it.

The “Amen” feels slight in comparison, in some ways, but it is still kind of immense, despite its relative brevity. It features even fewer words than the “Miserere” – to my ears, I only hear the one – and it just goes to show you that lyrics can be totally irrelevant. (Though that really doesn’t make sense in this case, since “Amen” carries a great deal of import for a great many people.) Gorecki’s crazy use of dynamics are on considerable display here and the contrasts between near-silence and the massed voices is incredible.

The “Euntes Ibant et Flebant” is quite subtle by comparison with the first two, at least until about half way through the piece where there is a brief “peak” for lack of a better word.

“Wislo Moja, Wislo Szara” is the only piece not conducted by the man responsible for the other tracks, and the only one to be performed by a different chorus than the two credited with the other performances. It is a serene piece, which contrasts greatly with the other music on the disk. It still has neat little tricks in it that wouldn’t exist in a similar arrangement from another era.

“Broad Waters” is the only piece with any real forward movement, with one movement practically feeling like a march in comparison. But things settle down. Like the “Wislo”, this has much more of a “song” feel than a religious service feel. Not sure if it’s based on anything like that, though.

On the whole this is an excellent collection of so-called “Holy minimalism” and I think I’m over the different performers thing.


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