A remarkable release here: saxophone titan Colin Stetson has arranged Henryk Gorecki’s much loved 3rd Symphony (one of the best-selling classical works ever) for an ensemble of electronics, guitars and woodwinds that includes members of Liturgy and Arcade Fire. It is a fascinating new spin on the piece: nice on Stetson. On 52Hz.
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This record is a massively collaborative effort, but Stetson has always been collaborating. He brought in Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden to narrate the events residing over ‘Judges’ and brought Justin Vernon in for a lush cover of the standard “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?”; he’s made avant-garde horn sludge with Mats Gustaffsson and paired with violinist Sarah Neufeld for a record of rigid but terse musical exercises. And for many years, he’s been on the other side, a sideman belting it out for the pop songs of TV On the Radio, Arcade Fire and recently Animal Collective. ‘Sorrow’ isn’t his first collaborative effort, merely the latest, one where he celebrates not only the musician that gave him “Symphony No. 3” but all the artists who helped him realise it. It sounds devastating, but what a loving thing this record is.
With an orchestra large enough to recreate the scope of the third symphony -- some Constellation mainstays such as Neufeld and Rebecca Foon appear, along with soprano vocalist Megan Stetson and guitarist Ryan Ferreira, among others -- Stetson manages to create the honouring and tactful arrangement of the piece he was looking for, straying into new territory only on occasion, and otherwise merely clarifying the grandiosity of Gorecki’s work with electronic instruments and extra modernised bluster. It opens on booming bass notes provided by Stetson himself before that crashing cyclical motif parades through the timbres; the piece eventually finds Megan Stetson’s ascendent voice, pairing it with flicks of the guitar and suppressive percussive weather -- Stetson cites a minor black metal influence on this record, and it’s in these subduing cymbals you’re going to hear it.
The electronics heard passing through “II’, alongside delayed guitar create new, emptying ground that gorgeously retread the course of Gorecki’s symphony -- it’s essentially a mood-setting duet between Ryan Ferrerira and Justin Walter, like a Godspeed record recorded underneath the composition -- hiding underneath Stetson’s bass sax, a slew of strings and Megan Stetson’s tethering vocal. When listening to this record, moments like this feel subliminal, almost impossible to anticipate underneath the epic, narratively bold piece Stetson is working with.
Gorecki’s piece was ripe with melodic refrains but also compelled by noisy, inaccessible discordance, and hearing each and every sound of Stetson’s rendition works the same way, to the point where I once again wonder if this piece is about fear or hope. I guess both? There’s a moment about six minutes into “II” where Steson’s vocal rises up alongside a lethargic and bright string motif, before a tinny drumbeat breaks in -- it sounds like a flower rising out of dead ground. Whatever this piece implies, Stetson keeps it beautiful.
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- presents: SORROW - A Reimagining of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony by Colin Stetson
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