GÓRECKI: Beatus Vir, Op. 38. Symphony No. 2 'Copernican', Op. 31
Let's not spend much time or space on his one, which has been around, unheard, for a couple of months. The "Copernican" Second Symphony, composed in two movements for the Polish astronomer's quincentennial in 1972, calls for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and a large orchestra that plays 36 minutes of Glass-derived minimalism with wrong notes, at relentlessly hectoring levels. I called it quits four minutes into the second movement, and never did hear the soprano (or ever will). Górecki lucked in with his Third Symphony -- Glass-derived minimalism, but consonant rather than dissonant, and never hectoring. A French movie soundtrack made it famous and there were several recordings, but I haven't seen it programmed now for a decade or so. Sic transit... (and good riddance).
Beatus Vir belongs to the Third Symphony period -- consonant minimalism -- in a stalled career from all appearances (unless Naxos has a batch of 1980-2000 pieces in its vault, waiting to be sprung). Composed in 1979 for Polish Pope John Paul II's return to his homeland, it opens with 16 slow, loud repetitions of the word "Dominus" for chorus and orchestra on one or the other of two adjacent pitches. Finally the baritone begins to sing and that helps, but it's an overlong greeting given the limited means employed. I kept thinking how much more expressive it might have been had Panufnik received the assignment.
Neither performance is tonally ingratiating, perhaps because of Gzergorz Fitelberg Concert Hall in Katowice; perhaps because of a triple-threat producer, engineer and editor named Beata Jankowska, who may be hearing impaired. One last caveat: texts in the program book are mixed up The last line attributed to Symphony No. 2 on Page 5 is actually the first line of Beatus Vir on Page 4; and the last line on 4 -- "Psalm 33, 9" -- should have come first on the page, because that's the source of "Dominus”-times-16.
I can't think of anyone even to give this to.
R.D. (Aug. 2001)