Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki, bring Gorecki’s saddest symphony to life with new recording
Artist: Beth Gibbons and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Album: Patty Griffin Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) Label: Domino
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Five years ago, Beth Gibbons of Portishead, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and Bryce Dessner of The National decamped to Poland to test their classical chops in a live setting. They performed at Warsaw’s National Opera Grand Theater alongside The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of esteemed Polish composer and conductor, Krzysztof Penderecki.
Gibbons took on Heryk Gòrecki’s famed piece, the very popular and aptly titled Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)—a perfect match for her heartrending voice. The performance was recorded and filmed and now, available for public consumption.
The late Gòrecki, a gifted modern-day classical composer has had many recordings of Symphony No. 3 and sold over a million copies combined. Penderecki, a respected composer in his own right, whose music has been heard in the films The Shining and The Exorcist, is by default in the film scorer camp. This is a niche that has, in recent times, come to the mainstream’s attention, in large part due to Hans Zimmer’s full orchestra tours of his scores. Penderecki’s understanding of his fellow Pole’s work, plus his connection with making classical crossover is the perfect go-between for someone like Gibbons and the intimidating Orchestra.
Known for his minimalist approach, Gòrecki’s every note is thoughtful and carefully placed. The first movement, “Lento—Sostenuto tranquillo ma cantabile,” plays halfway through for a gorgeous 12+ minutes before Gibbons steps in. The almost half-hour piece already shockingly beautiful, but Gibbons’ singular voice brings an eeriness to the music, which is known for its undertones of grief and sadness. She takes what the orchestra is doing to a far more intense place, almost unbearable in its desperation. The fact that she’s singing in Polish doesn’t take anything away from the emotion conveyed.
The second movement, “Lento e largo—Tranquillissimo” is gentler, Gibbons’ voice a touch more hopeful. The tones are delicate, almost fragile with a hymn-like quality that is enhanced by the inclusion of an organ. The third movement, “Lento—Cantabile-semplice” comes in low. It picks up, conveying hope in exponentially increasing amount. Gibbons doesn’t come in until the last few minutes; and even then, its just for a little bit. At that point, the music drops to a minimum and her voice takes on a sacred quality, making the listener catch their breath with its tension.
This is a very different realm for Gibbons to explore, but it is such a magical fit—albeit far away from her trailblazing work with Portishead. But she is a natural at breaking new ground and this one has turned out very nice.