Penderecki and Portishead singer Beth Gibbons release stunning recording of Górecki’s haunting Symphony No. 3
A new album of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony no. 3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, sung by Beth Gibbons of Portishead will be released this spring.
The result of collaboration with Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, it 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.
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.
This is not the first time he has worked with a British musician from outside the classical scene: he previously collaborated with Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood on an album entitled “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima”, which was released in 2012.
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.
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 will be released on 29 March and can already be pre-ordered online, including editions signed by Gibbons.