Although the Nonesuch recording has always been the one to receive most attention, it feels rushed and uncomfortable. As slow as the piece is, I always come away from that recording with the jitters. And it doesn't hit my heart, either. Despite the fact that Ms. Upshaw's voice is exceptionally beautiful, it doesn't pierce, penetrate, and rub away my defenses the way that Joanna Kozlowska's thicker, more emotionally present, voice does.
I hesitate to give the impression that one can "use" a work of art to fabricate a spiritual experience; nevertheless, the Kord/Kozloswka recording is undeniably mystical. The pace is slightly slower than the Zinman/Upshaw, more languid, and much more hypnotic. The ascending figure of the first movement accomplishes the amazing feat of creating the sensation of reaching toward the ineffable. The repeated bursts of dense, atonal chords in the third movement erupt like intense flashes of divine light. And throughout it all Ms. Kozlowska delivers the songs with such refined and masterly pathos that you do not need a translation to understand exactly what she is singing. The lamentation of the second movement, gentle and whisper soft, is almost more profound and intense than one can bear. To listen is to be transformed.
Of course, Henryk Gorecki would probably scoff derisively at my assessment, as well as at this recording, for being as undeniably, unapologetically spiritual as it is. And with good cause. Once something gets labelled "spiritual" it immediately becomes susceptible to criminal sentimentality. But you and I are better than that, aren't we? We can recognize and experience something as sacred without destroying it in the process. Buy this cd and find out.