Henryk Gorecki (1933-2010) became best known for his Third Symphony, the ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ that became a hit in the 1990s, tapping into a new hunger in the listening public for serious new music that was nonetheless melodically inspired and spiritual in sensibility. These qualities can be readily discerned in much of the rest of his small and fastidious output. The Kleines Requiem für eine Polka (1993) is itself at once a profoundly serious work and a curiously elusive one, a blend of warm expressive directness with almost Brechtian alienation. It is scored for a chamber ensemble: like Henze’s late masterpiece, it is an instrumental Requiem, in which words are felt to be otiose to the direct expression of grief and consolation.
This box collects several recordings of Satie's piano music by Dutch pianist Reinbert de Leeuw, going back as far as 1977, with an English-language DVD (not reviewed, but the idea is attractive) including a fictionalized presentation of Satie's relationship with artist Suzanne Valadon (after they broke up, he hung in his window cataloging her faults, but the film apparently doesn't get to the fun stuff). The provenance of the music on the third CD, consisting mostly of songs and featuring soprano Marjanne Kweksilber, is unclear from the booklet, and it's a poor choice for the non-Francophone – no song texts are provided at all. The piano music from de Leeuw is another matter, however. It is immediately distinctive in its slow tempos and dreamy, rather lugubrious tone.
Japanese label Triton has released a Pascal Rogé album with a rather remarkable program; Crystal Dream features the eminent French pianist in a program that interweaves short piano pieces by Erik Satie with others written by contemporary Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu, mostly pieces drawn from his Pleiades Dances. Both composers employ relatively simple melodic concepts harmonized with elegant, though elemental, kinds of accompaniments, so perhaps the combination makes sense. On the other hand, Satie never lived into the age of rock-based pop music, his engagement with the popular consisting mainly of French music hall tunes, and later in life, a sort of half-understood perception of ragtime rhythm. Yoshimatsu, however, would not be Yoshimatsu if it weren't for his strong connection to pop, though admittedly in Satie's case the pop group Blood, Sweat & Tears' adaptation of his Gymnopédie No. 1 once earned Satie a Grammy-winning single. Either way, one might wonder "how does this combination-slash-conversation work?"
When Written on Skin had its premiere at the 2012 Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, conducted by George Benjamin himself, it received a standing ovation. The opera's arrival at Covent Garden in 2013 was eagerly anticipated, and provided audiences with the opportunity to experience the work of two of Britain's greatest living artists. Benjamin previously collaborated with playwright Martin Crimp on Into the Little Hill, a magical retelling of the Pied Piper fairytale, and for this new work they joined forces with acclaimed stage director Katie Mitchell. For all three, the production marked their main-stage debut at the Royal Opera House. The tale, inspired by a medieval legend, tells of an ill-fated troubadour, drawn into a liaison with an innocent maiden. But they are observed by the jealous eye of her protector, who wreaks a shocking revenge on the young couple.