1985, 1990, 1993, 1995, Music

Kleines Requiem fur eine Polka; Concerto for Harpsichord; Good Night (1995) by Henryk Gorecki, performed by the London Sinfonietta et. al

This is a rather arbitrary collection of Gorecki’s later “avant garde” works, featuring a concerto from 1980 and two chamber pieces from the 1990s. But putting the arbitrariness to the side, what we are left with is some very stirring music.

The “Requiem” begins as you would expect a requiem to begin – well a modern one anyway: softly and mournfully, slowly building in tension. The influence of American minimalism – as opposed to Gorecki’s own “holy” minimalism – seems very prevalent to me here. Late in the first movement the music just explodes in volume, though the music itself has not changed much (though the instrumentation has), and then it recedes out just as quickly. But the second movement of the piece is considerably more “avant garde”, featuring discordant piano and strings (or brass???) that sound like they have been flattened. And then some Charles Ives-type madness comes in, with a brass section that sounds like it belongs in another piece. It is only in the third movement that you get even a remote hint of the piece’s supposed inspiration, the polka. It’s a vigorous section that doesn’t remotely sound like a “requiem.” The final movement is, like the first, far more traditional in terms of its resemblance to a “requiem.” The piece, on the whole, is quite the experience, and well worth listening to.

The Harpsichord Concerto is really neat. Two things about it I love: The strings (orchestra as a whole actually) sound like they are a mellotron, practically. I don’t know how they did that but it’s really cool. It practically sounds like a duet between the harpsichord and a cheesy keyboard. (This isn’t true for the entire piece, by any means, but it is true much of the time.) The second thing is how, when the shifts occur (the bars end, or what have you) sometimes either the harpsichord or orchestra is out of time. It’s like a comment on minimalism, or some kind of attempt at moving beyond it. I’m not sure which (maybe it’s both). But it’s cool and it makes it sound like one of the speakers is lagging behind (if the concerto were being broadcast). And it manages to do this while still sounding like part of the tradition – at least in the second unit, which sounds at times, both like classical music and Bernard Hermann.

Great stuff.

“Good Night” is a somber, elegiac thing, at least some of the time, which I guess is some kind of attempt at a modern lullaby, though it definitely will not put you to sleep. (Well I guess it could, but it’s not exactly traditionally tonal enough, to my ears.) Interesting enough.

I really don’t know why these three are together, and I guess that’s why I don’t want to rate this higher. It really is an arbitrary collection, but an arbitrary collection of great music.

8/10

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