Gorecki String Quartet No. 3 "...songs are sung" Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

If it is this powerful on a CD player, performed live it must be magical.

Charlotte Gardner 2007

Commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, Gorecki’s String Quartet No. 3, Songs Are Sung, is the latest product of a relationship between the composer and ensemble that stretches over a decade and also gave birth two the first two string quartets. The background to No.3, however, is particularly intriguing; commissioned in 1992 with the premiere scheduled for 1994, it would be thirteen years before it was finally delivered, in 2005. Incredibly, Gorecki had actually finished the work in 1995. He later wrote 'I continued to hold back from releasing it to the world. I don’t know why'. If even he doesn’t know why, it seems likely that we will never know either. Whatever the reason, Songs Are Sung has been worth the wait.


The work’s inspiration came from a poem by Velimir Khlebnikov which reads 'When horses die, they breathe/When grasses die, they wither/When suns die, they go out/When people die, they sing songs'. Whilst the slow, mournful music fully articulates the weight of death and grief, instead of being catapulted into corresponding misery, it has the surprising effect of throwing the listener into a state of contemplation, reverie and even hope. Fans of Gorecki will be familiar with the compositional devices employed such as sustained rocking motifs, and the juxtaposition of dissonance and consonance. Whilst the overarching mood is set in the first movement’s subdued, moody, rocking theme, there are respites; a consonant interlude in the second movement momentarily lifts the spirit, whilst the third movement conjures up a jaunty village dance.

The dissonant melancholy, however, is never far away. The Kronos Quartet’s interpretation is, unsurprisingly, perfectly judged, and conjures up an eerie, absorbing sound world. The human voice which first inspired Gorecki is lifted off the page, particularly in the haunting cello solo of the fifth movement where the idea of a vocal lament is most powerfully suggested. As the last chord dies away, it seems almost a sin to break the spell by moving or talking too soon. If it is this powerful on a CD player, performed live it must be magical.

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