• Górecki: Symphony 4**

Last month I briefly interrupted my walk in France to return to London for the long-awaited premiere of Górecki’s Fourth Symphony (2006).  I’d seen the score last year and wrote the concert programme notes before I left for France in January.  I was able to sit in on the first two days of rehearsals at Henry Wood Hall, with the London PO under Andrey Boreyko.  It seemed to me that Górecki’s son Mikołaj had done a superb job realising his father’s express and unspoken wishes in completing the orchestration of the work.  I had a couple of very interesting conversations with the conductor, during which I pointed out some of the composer references that were in the score but which became fully apparent only during rehearsal.  Yet it was impossible to form a rounded view of the work until the night of the premiere.

Philharmonic Orchaestra - videoThe audience response was fascinating.  There was no tittering (as there had been at rehearsal) at the slightly strange appearance of the glockenspiel after the hammering orchestral introduction (the scoring was Górecki’s). There was total concentration throughout the symphony’s 40 minutes.  And the reception at the end was enthusiastic: whoops, whistles and a standing ovation.  I was particularly thrilled for Górecki’s daughter Anna, who had brought her family and friends with her from Katowice for the occasion (Górecki’s widow, Jadwiga, and his son Mikołaj, who deserved an ovation of his own, were unfortunately not able to come).  I’ve not yet had a chance to read the critics’ responses, but I gather that they too have been very positive.  Here’s a link to the audio:


I must admit that I hadn’t been sure how it would hang together.  Certainly, the ‘Tansman’ theme – extrapolated from the letters of his full name – acts as a connecting thread, but Górecki’s habit of cross-cutting between movements often blurs the boundaries.  I needn’t have worried, and why should I?  The strongly etched expressive contrasts carry their own weight and structures, none more so than in the ‘Trio’ section of the third movement where the attention is closely focussed on a small chamber ensemble.  This substantial, yet minimised passage is the heart of the symphony and was especially telling on the night.

Where I still remain puzzled relates to the five bars towards the end of the Finale when Górecki inserts a darkly resonant reference to Siegfried’s Theme from Wagner’s Ring.  As I explain in the footnote afterthoughts to my programme notes (see • (2014) Tansman, Stravinsky, Górecki), this theme does contain references to other ideas in the symphony, but they are subliminal rather than overt.  The Wagner reference is given such prominence, albeit briefly, that it evidently had great significance for Górecki.  Yet its function within the symphony is enigmatic, to this listener at least.

What remains with me from that night is the sheer Góreckian character of the piece.  There are many familiar features as well as the unexpected ones.  The forthrightness, the almost bloody-minded obstinacy, the ability to switch expressive mode dramatically, the tenderness and sense of intimacy.  And that’s not to mention the sense of humour, tongue-in-cheek, daring the listener not to be po-faced.

It was terrific that The Guardian took up the suggestion to stream the video of the premiere over the following week. But where, one might ask, was BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM?

As I resumed my walk in France, the ‘Tansman’ theme kept revolving in my head, becoming my equivalent of a sea shanty, bolstering my walking rhythm as I marched onwards.  A strange aftermath, I thought, but one which encapsulated the persistent strength of Górecki’s music.

© 2014 Adrian Thomas

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