Portishead’s Beth Gibbons Performs Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3

Gibbons’ latest recording features the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by composer Krzysztof Penderecki.

Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) is one of the most powerful pieces of music I know of. Composed in 1976, the symphony confronts the loss and separation of war as seen through the laments of mothers and children. It reduced me to a sobbing wreck the first time I heard it, and to this day, I don’t approach it lightly.

In 1992, Nonesuch Records released a recording of the symphony that featured soprano Dawn Upshaw (this is the version I’m most familiar with). It’s supposedly the best-selling contemporary classical recording of all time, with over a million copies sold. And if you listen to it, it’s easy to understand why; Upshaw’s soaring voice makes the piece nigh-transcendent.

A more recent interpretation of Górecki’s symphony will feature another haunting voice, that of Beth Gibbons, who is better known as the singer for Portishead. But on November 29, 2014, she performed Symphony No. 3 with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by noted composer Krzysztof Penderecki.

That performance — for which Gibbons sang in the original text despite not knowing any Polish — will be released on March 29 by Domino Records on vinyl, CD, and digital download. All versions will also come with a film of the performance directed by Michał Merczyński. The above trailer only gives us a glimpse of the performance but more can be seen and heard on Beth Gibbons’ website. Via

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