Hitting the right note! Hauntingly beautiful Górecki performance tops UK classical music charts

In this new album, Gibbons moves into new territory: Górecki’s hauntingly beautiful 'Symphony', composed in 1976. Sung by a soprano in Polish, its three parts are based on a 15th Century lament, a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during the Second World War and a Silesian folk song. Beth Gibbons/YouTube

A recording of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs sung by Beth Gibbons of Portishead has topped the UK classical music charts.

The result of collaboration with Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, the haunting piece was performed with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Gibbons has been the British band’s frontwoman for almost three decades. Formed in Bristol in 1991, it is considered one of the pioneers of trip hop, which blends hip hop and electronica.

For Gibbons, Górecki’s 'Symphony' brought fresh challenges as she neither speaks Polish nor reads music. As a contralto, she also had to have voice coaching to prepare her to sing the music, which was written for a soprano – one register higher.Beth Gibbons/YouTube

In this new album, she moves into new territory: Górecki’s hauntingly beautiful “Symphony”, composed in 1976. Sung by a soprano in Polish, its three parts are based on a 15th Century lament, a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during the Second World War and a Silesian folk song.

The project dates back to 2013, when Portishead was playing at the Sacrum Profanum festival in Nowa Huta, Kraków. The promoter suggested that Gibbons could sing the “Symphony”.

For Gibbons, Górecki’s “Symphony” brought fresh challenges.


“Beth neither speaks Polish nor reads music. But in preparation for the performance, she worked from an especially prepared vocal score bearing the original text, a phonetic interpretation, and – crucially - a translation,” the album’s website explains.

A contralto, she underwent voice coaching to prepare her to sing the music, which was written for a soprano – one register higher.

Penderecki, 85, who has been called “Poland’s greatest living composer”, conducted the performance.

Penderecki, 85, who has been called 'Poland’s greatest living composer', conducted the performance.Beth Gibbons/YouTube

For the Górecki album, rehearsals took place in Katowice, culminating in a performance at the National Opera Grand Theatre in Warsaw in November 2014, alongside other works.

“At the end of the performance, there was – as always happens with this piece – a ghostly, shattered silence in which the whole room decompressed,” according to the album’s website.

Performed with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra rehearsals took place in Katowice, culminating in a performance at the National Opera Grand Theatre in Warsaw in November 2014. Beth Gibbons/YouTube

The backdrop for the music, featuring an endless corridor and a candle flame, was prepared by artist John Minton, a long-term collaborator of Gibbons.

The album was released on 29 March.