Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Górecki was not hugely prolific, but he was something of a hero to listeners who welcomed the mysticism and transparent emotional expressiveness of his works after he turned from the avant-garde to a more accessible post-Modern tonal language in the mid-1970s. A 1993 recording of his Third Symphony ("Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," 1976), in fact, became an international best-seller. This recording with Antoni Wit leading the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra includes four works typical of his later style. Little Requiem for a Certain Polka, for piano and orchestra (1993) is in four movements whose dramatically contrasting juxtapositions are typical of the Eastern European minimalist and polystylistic trends of the era: a largely tonal language; a predominantly quiet mood punctuated by startling, rambunctious outbursts (which can sound like Shostakovich on an ironically cheerful day); and a cryptic sense of structure and musical development that owes little to earlier models from the classical (or any other) tradition. Concerto-Cantata for flute and orchestra (1992), which is recorded here for the first time, follows the form of the Requiem surprisingly closely, but is overall less successful due to its tendency to overdo repetition, and the relative blandness of its musical ideas. The brief Harpsichord Concerto (1980), performed in its version for piano, is of an entirely different cast, made up of two very fast movements, marked Allegro molto and Vivace marcatissimo, and its manic energy is completely engaging. In this piece pianist Anna Górecka, the composer's daughter, is given ample opportunity to display her virtuosic gifts. The outer movements of Three Dances (1973) have the direct appeal of Bartók's folk-influenced works, and a middle movement that's a more typically Góreckian elegy.
Wit, who has done much to bring contemporary Eastern European, and especially Polish, music to the attention of broader audiences, delivers compelling performances of the pieces. Some inconsistencies in the playing of Górecki's exposed and not-always-idiomatic orchestral writing, however, are reminders that the Warsaw Philharmonic, although a very fine ensemble, is not among the very top tier of the world's orchestras, particularly in its string section. Naxos' sound is clean and balanced, but not especially lively or present.