I am in awe of Christine Brewer’s voice: so large and full, but mellow and warm, unlike any other dramatic soprano I have heard–certainly not the laser-like focus of a Birgit Nilsson or Deborah Voigt. I have heard her live both in opera (the title role of Britten’s Gloriana in Saint Louis) and in recital at Wigmore Hall in London. Her recent recording of Strauss’s Four Last Songs with the Atlanta Symphony and Donald Runnicles is one of my favorites.
This week Telarc has released a new recording of Henryk Gorecki’s ever-popular Third Symphony, the so called “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” It’s three slow movements with Polish text sung by a solo soprano became a surprise bestseller hit in the 1980s 1992 in a recording by Dawn Upshaw, the London Symphony and David Zinman. Upshaw always seemed like an unlikely candidate for the soprano solo, because it really requires a dramatic soprano who can ride above the large orchestral climax, especially in the first movement. Upshaw’s lyric voice just doesn’t hack it. There have been several other recordings, and until this new recording, my favorite has always been on Naxos, with Antoni Wit conducting the Polish National Radio Symphony, with Zofia Kilanowicz as the soloist. She has the kind of strident Slavic voice that carries over the crest of the orchestra, but with great tenderness in the softer passages.
Christine Brewer blows them all away, with her motherly warmth and tenderness in her lower register but commanding presence in the first movement’s climactic moment when the full orchestra returns to the opening canon which winds down to nothing ten minutes later.. This is an unusual work, with it’s reliance mostly on strings, no brass, a couple of flutes and piano. The texture is thick with strings. Donald Runnicles chooses tempi that are quicker than some other performances, but these tempi give more forward movement to the work as a whole. It is a compelling performance. My only complaint is that the only work on the recording is the Gorecki Symphony, which at 49 minutes is a little thin for a CD that Amazon.com is selling for $17.98. (I downloaded the 3 tracks from eMusic.com, so I got a good deal.) I downloaded the tracks last night and have been listening almost non-stop since then. I strongly recommend this new performance, even if (or rather, especially if) you already own the Upshaw/Zinman recording.