Grant Gershon conducts the LA Master Choral earlier this year. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles…)
The West has been playing catch-up with the works of Polish composer Henryk Górecki since the 1992 recording of his Symphony No. 3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” seized world attention. The Los Angeles Master Chorale, under music director Grant Gershon, has been a devoted part of the uptake, giving the U.S. premiere of Górecki’s “Lobgesang” four years ago and continuing Sunday at Walt Disney Concert Hall with an uplifting “Tribute to Górecki” concert.
In addition to “Lobgesang” and a Brahms motet, the program included two major works that put human suffering and spiritual aspiration directly at the center of the music.
“Miserere,” which closed the program, bears the closest resemblance to the earlier symphony, which actually premiered in 1977. But it is a deceptive resemblance. Composed five years later and dedicated to the city of Bydgoszcz, where a brutal suppression of the Solidarity movement took place, “Miserere” also begins in the depths — it is scored for an eight-part a cappella chorus — and slowly adds the other voices in imitative layers.
But it is not a long, continuous crescendo. There are dynamic swells and retreats before the next choir part enters, and the while the peak is richly, expansively sounded, the 35-minute work ends quietly, hopefully.
More intimate, touching and transformative were the five Marian songs, “Piesni Maryjne,” which closed the first half of the program. The deeply felt interiority of this music, partly derived from old Polish church hymns, was such that a listener felt he had intruded on a private act of faith and prayer. The concert hall transformed into sacred space, and the audience seemed called upon to reorient its priorities and grow humble.
Gershon conducted all the music with insightful and sensitive shaping of dynamics and line. The chorale sang the complicated harmonic parts with joyful security. The chorale will record the Górecki works later this week.
The composer died in 2010, before he could complete his Symphony No. 4, which had been co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Left hanging was the tantalizing question of how he aimed to continue his devout trajectory.