Review: LPO – GÃ³recki’s 4th Symphony (Tansman Episodes) @ RFH
It’s finally here. The world premiere of the most anticipated work for orchestra for decades. Henryk GÃ³recki’s 4th Symphony comes after years of delays (it was finished in 2006), completions by his son, MikoÅ‚aj, and his own death back in 2010.
I am regarding this as the peak of the cultural calendar this year. The fandom he has gained from his previous symphony is legendary. I should point out that if people wish to explore his music further, an open mind and steady soul would be recommended. The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs feels like a quiet interlude in his otherwise brave and eccentric output. Yet his final symphonic work has made a tribute to Alexandre Tansman, a fellow Polish composer.
With the LPO's The Band giving a mini concert and a talk by Cardiff University's Professor Adrian Thomas, the build up to the main event caused quite a stir. The teenage group of players gave a GÃ³recki-inspired work mixed with other styles of music. It was acceptable, I don’t want to say generic, but pleasant to the ear. Thomas’ talk about GÃ³recki was the best pre-show discussion I have attended for many moons. His fight to see the composer’s sketch books (Thomas only got to see one for just a night), GÃ³recki’s changeable mood, his coyness and the letting go of composition (he kept his 3rd String Quartet to himself for ten years) for performances, all portrayed a fragile and flawed composer. The music prevails over character, as GÃ³recki would admit himself.
Sat at the very back of the stalls (still a great sound), the first part of the concert had Stravinsky nearly overshadowing the main event. Tansman’s ‘StÃ¨le in memoriam to Igor Stravinsky’ was a fitting and acute tribute to the great Russia composer. With plenty of percussion and a full orchestra, it was a grand opener. Thanks to GÃ³recki, Tansman is a discovery worthy of such tributes. The concerto for us was Stravinsky’s own Violin Concerto. Julian Rachlin shifted through this as the soloist. It’s a mischievous work and a great example of Stravinsky’s neo-classical phase (which I’m not always a fan of). Rachlin pulled out the raw, folkish melodies, which strangely make the lone violin sound highly unclassical.
But how did this new symphony sound? Was it worth all the hype? Yes, to an extent. Dubbed ‘Tansman Episodes’, it is drastically varied from the Sorrowful Songs, which is a good thing. People would have only moaned he had repeated himself. This music owes more to his 2nd Symphony, ‘The Copernican’ and works before and after his 3rd. Goosebumps and tears abound for the opening and closing, as brass, drums and organ deliver terrifying and positively electrifying repeated chords. The noise here was almost verging on a sort of oriental music.
The string writing is certainly not as moving as in the 3rd, but an intimate duet for cello and piano evokes the same as in Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Bizarre circus-like music even finds its way into this work, framing the said cello number. It is certainly a well-played juxtaposition on the composer’s behalf. I’d like to think that the audience enjoyed it. Some would have been shocked by it (a handful walked out). Many people giving ovations and a mass of applause. Conductor Andrey Boreyko (who was stellar all evening), very touchingly placed a bouquet of flowers he was handed onto the sheet music for the work, in a tribute to GÃ³recki. An image to stay with me for some timeâ€¦
Now I play the persuasion game with our BBC NOW to get them to give the Welsh premiere of this symphony. Perhaps a mini festival of this late, great composer would suffice.
Creepy, intense and brimming with original sentiment.
Author's note: On Monday 14 April, the Guardian will host the exclusive video premiere of GÃ³recki's fourth symphony, performed by the London Philharmonic. Sign up here to hear about future streaming and broadcast plans.