Most helpful positive review
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This would be the best version even at non-bargain prices
on January 25, 2004
This disc is truly the best of both worlds: an amazingly cheap (cheap! not merely affordable) classical disc of a fascinating piece of musical magnificently performed. Despite the presence of premium priced versions of this haunting piece of music (as well as at least one other very good bargain version), Antoni Wit directing the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra manages to outshine the competition. I knew two previous versions of this before, the famous Nonesuch with David Zinman and Dawn Upshaw, and the Philips with Joanna Kozlowska undertaking the vocals.
I recommend this version over the alternatives for four reasons. First, the price is unbeatable. Second, I believe the performance is marginally better than its competitors. Third, the remarkable singing of Zofia Kilanowicz. Fourth, unlike some recordings of this symphony, the disc contains not only the symphony itself, but "Three Olden Style Pieces," which while not as interesting as the main piece are not without interest. In short, this disc features the best performance, is offered at the best price, and contains more music than its competitors.
I do want to question the logic behind one of the other reviews. A reviewer from Derbyshire has expressed his belief that this music is somehow intellectually inferior and that its effects can be as harmful as a drug. I'm sure this was meant hyperbolically, but even granting this, this seems to me to indicate some confusion. In fact, the point is confusedly made. He grants that in Ravel (in the Bolero, a piece that I like not only less than most of the rest of Ravel's corpus but far less than the Gorecki) repetition is effective, and also in Beethoven. Why Gorecki's use of repetition is supposed (I emphasize "supposed") to be less effective is not made clear. Is it because the symphony is popular? Personally, I find the symphony haunting. The music strikes the listener with the simplicity of simple folks tunes and simple masses. Yes, it produces a stunning emotional reaction and can be almost mesmerizing. I personally do not see how this is a negative.
Although this is almost without question the most popular symphony of the past few decades, it has been subject to some criticism because it isn't sufficiently "modern." I worked for a couple of years at Symphony Center in Chicago, where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performs. I was fascinated to hear backstage the intense hatred a significant number of the orchestra members had for the work of most recent composers. Someone like Gorecki, however, they liked. To me it seems like a perfect instance of the musicians themselves knowing that the emperors had no clothes. We have, I believe, at present something of a gap between fans of orchestral music and musicians on the one hand, and composers and composition teachers on the other. Contemporary orchestral compositions have been plummeting in popularity in the period following Stravinsky and other composers of the early twentieth century, and I would argue that the impossibility of enjoying these compositions on more than an intellectual level has been one of their greatest problems. I am not arguing that orchestral music should be anti-intellectual, but it can't be merely intellectual, as too much of it is.