• In His Element

1450790520I’ve been meaning for a few weeks to mention a new recording of Górecki’s most challenging composition.  In fact, it is only the second time that Genesis I: Elementi for three string instruments (1962) has appeared on CD.  It was first issued on Olympia OCD 375 (1994) in a performance by members of the Silesian Quartet (Kwartet Śląski) recorded the previous year.  Given the closeness of Górecki to the Silesian Quartet – they all lived and worked in Katowice – it is certain that he worked with them on the piece and may even have been present at the recording.  The players will remember.  Although it is not now generally available, it sometimes appears as a ‘used’ CD.

Last month a second recording appeared, on Challenge Classics CC72713 (CD and mp3 download), in a performance by the Goeyvaerts String Trio recorded last year.

gorecki-2-c-adrian-thomas3It was a particular thrill when the cellist Pieter Stas asked if I would let them include in the booklet a photo of Górecki that I had taken in the summer of 1987.  I was staying with the Górecki family in Chochołów, not far from Zakopane in southern Poland, and we had taken a long walk across country amidst the hay stacks.  We eventually reached a farm where Górecki and his wife Jadwiga had spent their honeymoon in 1959.  Twenty eight years later, they were thrilled to find that the farmer was still there. This is a little record of that reunion.  But to more important matters.

The Goeyvaerts recording differs in key respects to that of the Silesians.  For one thing, it is a Hybrid Surround recording, so Górecki’s stipulation of spatial separation between the three players has been brilliantly realised (the score specifies a triangular layout with 10-12 metres between violin and cello and 6-8 metres from the viola to the other two instruments).  Secondly, the new recording is closer in timing to Górecki’s 12’42”.  Where the Silesian Quartet came in at a nifty 10’37”, the Goeyvaerts Trio, at 13’22”, is 2’45” longer.

I have listened to the earlier recording so many times that it is now firmly imprinted.  It is raw, urgent and immediate and I still think that it captures Górecki’s fierceness and the white-hot passion in which he composed it in February-March 1962.  I wouldn’t be without it.  The Goeyvaerts Trio brings a new dimension, both physically in terms of the movement of sound and in the grinding insistence that the slower tempo brings.  The ear is compelled to examine the textures more closely, rather than being swept along, and different details emerge, especially in the quieter moments where lyrical delicacy not ferocious brutality holds sway.  Without losing cohesion, the Goeyvaerts players bring out Górecki’s mantra (which he repeated to me on a number of occasions) that this is a work for three string instruments, not for string trio.  So bravo to Kristien Roels, Kris Matthynssens and Pieter Stas for bringing to new ears this vital but rarely performed work from a 28-year-old Górecki.

• Zakopane crib

I’ve just unboxed, as I do at this time each year, a seasonal reminder that I bought in Zakopane in December 1998.  I was there to celebrate Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s 65th birthday with his family and friends.  Everything was deep in snow. The following morning I went with Susan Bamert from Boosey & Hawkes to explore the market at the foot of the ski slope at Gubałówka.  Tempted though I was by fragrant cheeses, my eye was caught by a carved wooden crib of not inconsiderable size and weight.  I could not resist and somehow managed to get it home in one piece.  It has adorned the house every Christmas since.  I love its open and subtle craft, the use of bark, straw and willow, and its lack of commercial veneer.

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Here are a few other angles:

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• Carols in the Raw

As a counterpoint to the increasingly saccharine carols that flood Christmas here in the UK, here are two unvarnished examples from the Polish highlands.  Each brings an edgy reality to Christmas traditions.

The first is from Pieniny, on the Dunajec river north of Zakopane.  It’s one of Poland’s favourite carols, ‘Oj, maluski, maluski’ (Oh little one, little one), sung here by a young child, with male-voice refrain.  There’s a charming little video loop accompanying this ungilded rendition.

 

The second is a rough-edited sequence of vocal and instrumental music sung and played by the ‘Giewonty’ ensemble.  (Giewont is the peak overshadowing Zakopane.  Its huge metal cross was nearly my undoing when in 1997 I scrambled to the summit in a ferocious storm and was a mere two metres from the cross when it was struck by lightning …)

This lively sequence was taken from an evening’s carousel in the Willa Orla (Eagle Villa) in Zakopane on 26 December 2007.  It’s vigorous, youthful and passionate.  OK, it’s been packaged a bit, but once inside you get a good feel for the atmosphere of góral celebrations of Christmas.  Wesołych Świąt!

 

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