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CD of the Week – Henryk Mikolaj Górecki: Totus Tuus

Henryk Mikolaj Górecki: Totus Tuus
Delphian

It would be a pity and a travesty if Górecki were remembered only for writing the first modern symphony to sell a million discs. A pity, because the third symphony is not worth hearing more than twice and a travesty because Górecki was tonally more adventurous than the symphony’s simple devotions might suggest.

He delighted in greeting the homecoming Pope John Paul II with daring harmonies, couched with love in Church tradition but using the four corners of his choir to give a 20th century edge to his Marian hymn. Of the four choruses on this disc, the earliest is the most frugal, based on a three-note motif but full of surprising turns of harmony, a palette that he exploits to an exquisite perfection in a separate, seven-minute Amen. Compared to Penderecki’s grander, more reverent devotions, Górecki’s always seem to push at the boundaries of familiarity. I cannot fathom why his piano concerto and string quartets are not performed more often.

He could not have wished for a more effective chorus than the National Youth Choir of Great Britain under Mike Brewer’s leadership. The NYCGB regularly puts grownups to shame and is heading (I’m told) for a big Olympic night this summer. Must be heard.

3 weird piano CDs

Bach Crossings
FCR

A set of 4-hand Bach transcriptions by the Hungarian ascetic Gyorgy Kurtag sounds at times like Glenn Gould on a no-carb diet. Duo Stephanie and Saar divvy up the keyboard, but why no sleeve notes? It would have been useful to know how and why Kurtag worked over these familiar pieces.

Godowsky: 22 Chopin Studies for left hand alone
Paraty

Leopold Godowsky decided that Chopin’s Etudes were not difficult enough, so he played them one-handed. Technique aside, this is a revealing work of commentary by one great virtuoso on another and Ivan Ilic plays with agreeable panache.

Hauer: Etudes, op 22
MDG

Josef Matthias Hauer was the Viennese geek who invented the 12-note method ahead of Schoenberg, or so he claimed. The surprise here is the flowing musicality of these etudes, flexibly performed by Steffen Schleiermacher.

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Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.