Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Los Angeles Master Chorale's Górecki “Miserere” CD

by Douglas Neslund


For the final concert of the Chorale’s 2011-2012 season, Maestro Grant Gershon organized a concert of the music of Henryk Górecki, with a Johannes Brahms ode for stylistic contrast. A day or two later, the Chorale reassembled in Walt Disney Concert Hall to record the following mostly a cappella Górecki creations: Lobgesang (op. 76) for mixed choir and glockenspiel, Miserere (op. 44) for 8-part choir and Pieśni Maryjne (op. 54) for mixed voices.

Lobgesang is a celebration of the 600th anniversary in the year 2000 of the birth of Johannes Gutenberg, whose invention of the moveable type printing press changed the world forever. The sound produced by the Master Chorale is world-class, hands down. From the initial fortissimo to the final pianissimo, during which a glockenspiel plays the name of the celebrant three times, the sound is magnificent. Perfectionists might quibble about a brief moment here or there where the choral balances are not just right, or obsess over the single less than pristine phrase attack, but the rest of us are blessed with a banquet of sumptuous choral singing probably unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

Miserere is an unhurried multi-movement work of great introspection and reflection over the three word plea: Domine Deus noster (Lord our God), first heard in 2002 as performed by the Master Chorale. Górecki wrote Miserere as a spiritual response to a horrific beating inflicted on Polish Solidarity movement members by communist police, and later, the murder by the government of an activist priest. The long stretches of music softly sung will be a revelation to a younger generation of listeners for whom music only exists as ear-shattering din. Such spun gold is anything but boring! The Chorale maintains a focus and laser-like intensity throughout that arrests the listener’s attention and simply will not let go.

Pieśni Maryjne are five Marian devotions set to Polish texts created by Górecki himself, and present a wide range of choral effects and content based largely on Polish folk songs.

The transparency of this recording reveals an aggregation of singers, but so much more than just singers. The Master Chorale, after a decade of leadership under Maestro Gershon, has been refined and molded by him into the perfect instrument to perform Górecki’s music.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is arguably the best venue in the world to hear a concert of a cappella choral music. In this recording, the warmth of the wooden interior and wrap-around stage area perfectly captures the Master Chorale as equally in the sensitive, delicate pianissimos as in their full-throated, wall of sound fortissimos. Decca’s team of recording specialists, editors and mixers have perfectly captured the Master Chorale’s singing and produced a winner, all made possible by a generous gift from Lillian and Jon Lovelace.

But most of all, this recording is an unmitigated triumph for Grant Gershon.

The CD’s accompanying notes are both informative and interesting, and presented in four languages: English, French, German and Polish. The CD may be obtained at http://www.lamc.org/gorecki-miserere.php 

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