Artist: Colin Stetson
Album: Sorrow: A Reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony
Genre: Avant-Jazz, Contemporary Classical
Year Of Release: 2016
Quality: FLAC (tracks)
The story of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 (often called “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”) is one of a runaway success nobody, even its composer, understood. Why did a 1992 recording of a work written 16 years earlier by a previously unknown Polish composer suddenly sell a million copies? Other modern Polish composers’ works weren’t exactly leaping off shelves. No one knew why, but critics, who by and large weren’t fans, offered theories; the piece was the lucky beneficiary of the early compact-disc boom, for instance. It was bathetic music, pandering to the worst and easiest film-score ideas that the general populace had about orchestral music. It sounded good at dinner parties. It was, in other words, a fluke, a misfire in the central nervous system of the collective unconscious.
As the years have accumulated, and the piece has maintained its grip on the public imagination, generating tributes and new recordings and finding use in multiple films, a simpler explanation gently suggests itself: this piece pierced something in us, gave us something we decided we needed badly. The timing of it will always be mysterious, but the basic fact seems plain: Music listeners have decided we need Gorecki’s piece, and we have made a permanent place for it in our lives. It has also, famously, saved some lives—in an NPR interview from 1995, Gorecki read aloud a letter from a 14-year-old girl, a burn victim, who told Gorecki that the music was the only thing keeping her alive.
It’s a simple piece, at least in a harmonic sense. Works in this vein, in which songful lines move slowly against each other (Barber’s Adagio for Strings comes to mind), tend to require a brisk interpretive hand—all the pathos the music needs is in the notes, and to wring any extra juice from them is to watch the whole thing curdle. What is most surprising about avant-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson’s Sorrow – A Reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony is how fully it embraces the music’s inherent sweep. Stetson’s often known for bracing music, and his fans might have expected him to cut this big souffle with quinine. But from the first movement’s opening canon, with Stetson blowing long, low notes mimicking the orchestra’s double basses, it’s pretty obvious: Whatever this piece has meant to decades of listeners, it has meant something similar to Stetson. He clearly loves it, and his recreation is nothing it not a personal act of love.
by Jayson Greene