When I started collecting music, vinyl records were the medium of choice. Walkman players shifted that focus to pre-recorded cassette tapes for a short while before compact discs steamrolled over everything. I nearly joined the 21st century in forsaking physical formats till I bought a pair of decent speakers for my stereo system.
Then I played a record from my old collection on that system, and a new obsession began.
Records force listeners to interact physically with the act of listening. You have to care for records. You have to flip slides while playing them. You have to pay attention. Computer files can be strung together in hours-long stretches that effectively severs that personal connection.
When I started collecting vinyl again in 2013, I focused on used copies of albums I could have bought as records but hadn’t discovered at the time. But slicing through the shrink wrap of an unopened record was an act I hadn’t experienced in more than 20 years, and something about it felt communal.
So now I double down — if I really like an album, I’ll buy it on vinyl as well. For me, the vinyl purchase is the premium display of support, short of seeing a band live.
Seattle arts scene
I lived in New York City from 1992 to 1993 on an exchange program between the University of Hawaii and Hunter College. I had an internship at a classical record label. I saw Kronos Quartet twice. I went to Broadway shows I’d been craving to see since high school. And my first Duran Duran concert happened two weeks before the band released The Wedding Album.
It makes me wonder what more I could have done if I had my 2016 income in 1992.
I would probably be doing a lot of the same things. I’ve seen Kronos Quartet three times now, and my fifth Duran Duran concert happened in Puyallup. I went to see a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins in March 2016, and I’m a subscriber of the symphony.
It’s been more than 10 years since I’ve given up trying to be a tastemaker, and I’m glad to have yielded that responsibility, not that I was great at it. I used to have a vague clue about what’s popular, but I can’t even claim that any more.
I don’t want to say I’m done exploring music, because every time I think I’m done, I fall down yet another hole. I do, however, feel my tastes have settled down. I have my go-to genres, my go-to periods, my go-to artists.
Just when I thought I was done cycling through niches, I found one last rabbit hole into which I tumbled long and hard. The earliest days of this site owes its reputation to that period, but midway through the last decade, something broke.
Japanese indie rock
I remember the moment I was introduced to Cocco very well.
A co-worker was playing a Japan Nite sampler CD, and when it reached Cocco, I got up from my desk to find out who was singing. Here was someone who could have gone the easy route and sing anime theme songs. Instead, a wail of grunge guitars backed her. It was the Japanese rock for which I was searching.
The office sent me to cover SXSW music events, and I volunteered to cover Japan Nite in 1999. That night introduced me to Missile Girl Scoot, eX-Girl and NUMBER GIRL. A trip home to Honolulu in 2000 led to Utada Hikaru, the brilliant green, L’Arc~en~Ciel and Shiina Ringo.
Web sites covering Japanese music focused primarily on pop idols. I wanted to feature more of the rock music showcased at Japan Nite. So Musicwhore.org became a webzine to do just that. My rusty Japanese needed a lot of help from online tools, but over time, I got proficient enough to localize short news stories into English.
I also used this site to hone my skills as a web software engineer, pulling together the articles I was writing with various discography services. Building the site from the ground up while also creating its content took its toll, and after five years, I pivoted to write more broadly about all the music that interested me.
It takes a lot of work to be connected all the time, and in the heady music blog days of the mid-2000s, bands got deafening buzz from posting a single MP3 to MySpace, and then the focus would shift elsewhere before that band could make a second song.
I just didn’t have the energy to trawl music sites in Japanese to find another band to fill the NUMBER GIRL void, and Western bands sounded too similar to what I grew up with to make a non-cranky judgement. So I retreated into catalog.
Cutting out the middle man
One interesting side effect of the shift to downloads and streams is the rise of direct fan relationships with artists. Facebook and Twitter makes it easy to discover and connect with artists who don’t rely on a label for promotion and distribution.
In an effort to find gay artists who played music more to my personal taste, I skimmed articles in gay publications and sites for leads, and a great majority of them sent me directly to an artist’s web presence. Similarly, I would follow opening acts at concerts if their performances impressed me.
The label system lacks such transparency that the direct fan relationship feels a lot more pure. I know when I buy directly from Matt Alber, Sacha Sacket, Jarell Perry or Shaprece, they’re getting my cash, not the middle man.
As my high school career drew to a close, I went off the rails because I couldn’t make sense of what my hormones were doing, so I channeled that insanity-making into my choice of music.
I badly mimicked Björk at a time she could barely stay in tune herself. I made regular trips to the library to borrow anything on Nonesuch. I swore off radio and depended entirely on music magazines to determine what I listened to next.
In 1993, the first alternative radio station launched in Honolulu, and seemingly overnight the music that put me on the outs with everyone was socially acceptable. Of course, my young, dumb reactionary self couldn’t abide by that. So while everyone was catching up with where I was five years earlier, I found ways to go further afield.
Robotech was a huge hit in my household, probably the only thing on which the siblings in my family could agree. But when the home video market made it possible for anime to be released stateside, a whole world opened up, particularly J-Pop. One of the first CDs I bought — and still own — is the Macross Song Collection. In fact, the first few CDs I bought were anime soundtracks — Megazone 23, Bubblegum Crisis and Akira.
But the prohibitively expensive Japanese imports made exploration of J-pop economically unfeasible for a broke college student. As much I liked J-Pop, I still wanted something that something closer to the Replacements than Paula Abdul.
Downtown New York
Nonesuch’s release of John Zorn’s Naked City sent me down a rabbit hole of downtown New York jazz, but the independent nature of the scene guaranteed I wouldn’t track down a fraction of the recordings connected to it. Not from Honolulu, at least. So I concentrated on the major label artists I could access — Bill Frisell, Robin Holcomb and for a while, Wayne Horvitz.
A political science class finally gave me Internet access, and a few pioneering sites attempted to connect music fans with rare recordings. I was ordering albums from the Internet even before Amazon launched.
Clannad really took off after Volkswagen featured “Harry’s Game” in one of its commercials. Enya laid some groundwork in introducing the beauty of the Irish language, but her siblings in Clannad took it further with their catalog of folk albums.
I think this passing fascination wouldn’t have spiraled if it weren’t for USENET and a newsgroup called alt.music.celtic. This precursor to the web message board offered a few more recommendations, and I spent a good part of the mid-90s listening to Altan, Capercaillie and Talitha Mackenzie.
Emmylou Harris and country music
Asylum Records sent an interview disc of Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois talking about the making of Wrecking Ball to the school newspaper where I was the features editor. I was familiar with Harris’ name but not her work, and I can’t say I was entirely open to covering country music.
But Wrecking Ball wasn’t country, and it made me receptive to listen to Harris’ previous work. A year later, Warner Bros. released the Portraits boxed set, and I became a fan for life.
I learned right away that Harris’ music bore little resemblance to the kind performed by Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain, and the country music I preferred drew its lineage from Uncle Tupelo.
Welcome to Austin, Texas
My college career concluded with an internship to the Austin American-Statesman and my first job out of college. The homegrown music scene focused mostly on Southern music — blues, country and its derivatives — but it had enough versatility to include a diverse rock scene.
In my first years in Austin, I supported the likes of Asylum Street Spankers, 8 1/2 Souvenirs, the Kiss-Offs and Bruce Robison. Toward the end of my time in Austin, I became a fan of … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Explosions in the Sky.
This month, I turn 44. I’ve been collecting music for about 81 percent of that lifespan. I bought my first album when I was 8 years old.
OK, it was my mom who caved into my whining about wanting that Manhattan Transfer album with the “Twilight Zone” song on it (Extensions, by the way.) She’s regretted it ever since. I think the last time she chided me for spending too much money on music was … three months ago?
When my collecting took off in junior high, I went through phases where I would dive deep into a particular style of music and play it to death on the family stereo. Every year, I would glom onto something new, then ditch it for something else. It was such a reliable metric, my siblings would ask, “What are you going to get into next year?”
In college, the phases started to grow longer and overlap to the point that I though I outgrew them. In reality, I was just figuring out what kind of music sustained the dopamine rush. I kept those around while I explored other things.
By then, I had figured out that anyone can like any style of music if you learn how to listen to it. When I got into post-punk music, my siblings hated being subjected to singers who couldn’t sing. They had been raised on a steady diet of radio pop and didn’t understand a lack of polish was exactly the point.
So to commemorate this birthday month, we’ll explore the various phases that marked my history as a music fan, starting our first decade with the 1980s.
I can’t say MTV influenced my music consumption because my parents didn’t subscribe to cable. But network TV attempted to ride the music video coattails with such shows as Friday Night Videos and Prime Time Videos.
It was music video that spurred my childhood interest in ABBA. And it was music video that got me into Duran Duran, Eurythmics, ABC, Tears for Fears, Huey Lewis and the News and Sting. I preferred the more theatrical videos made by bands from England and Europe than the song-and-dance numbers of American bands.
That steady diet of English bands set up an affinity for punk-influenced music that would set me at odds with my peer group. That didn’t stop me from trying to fit in.
In 1986, I started high school, and I wanted to establish an identity different from the one I had in junior high and elementary school. So for a time, I was listening to Club Nouveau, L.A. Dream Team Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and Janet Jackson.
But my conscience eventually won out. Some of the most popular hits played on the radio weren’t songs I really liked on first listen, and repeated plays didn’t make them any better. And the popular kids with whom I was trying to ingratiate myself? Turns out I didn’t really like them all that much.
“Hawaiian Electric” by Hiroshima
In 1987, Hawaiian Electric Co. commissioned a pair of television ads featuring music by jazz fusion band Hiroshima. It was my first introduction to non-Western instruments, and I was fascinated. Hiroshima was a staple on a new radio format for light jazz and new age. Basia, Enya, Spyro Gyra, Hiroshima — all different styles of music unified by mood. It was a diversity I’d been craving.
In my junior year of high school, my band instructor introduced me to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jesus Christ Superstar. Around the same time, a television broadcast of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George alternately bored and fascinated me. Jesus Christ Superstar led to Cats, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera, while Sunday in the Park with George was the springboard to Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music.
Sondheim and Lloyd Webber pretty much allowed me to break rank entirely with everyone in high school. I no longer felt a need to fit in. I would explore music that interested me, and the more it confused my cohorts, the better.
Music: An Appreciation by Roger Kamien
All throughout these years of exploration, I was taking piano lessons, but when I expressed interest in songwriting, those piano lessons became rudimentary lessons in music theory and composition. To take advantage of my large finger span, my teacher introduced me to works by Claude Debussy and Aram Khachaturian.
My dad also took a music appreciation course at a community college, and I used his textbook, Music: An Appreciation by Roger Kamien, as bathroom reading. Over time, I absorbed the names of composers, the eras in which they lived and the forms of music they composed. The section on 20th Century Music fascinated me in particular.
All these events came together when I ran across a description of Kronos Quartet in a music magazine, and my love for modern classical music was born.
As my high school years drew to a close, a free magazine published by Tower Records, named Pulse!, became my bible. Pulse! introduced me to Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Camper Van Beethoven, the Sugarcubes, the Replacements and Steve Reich. It published some of Adrian Tomine’s earliest comics, and one of its columnists spurred me to write about music. This blog owes a lot to Pulse!
Up next …
College would deepen my understanding of classical music, but when all the underground rock I was precociously consuming during high school became mainstream, I would find new ways to differentiate myself.
Why should I be surprised the vinyl bug that bit me hard in 2013 has expanded its scope to include reissues never released on vinyl? It’s because I’ve already back-filled my pre-owned collection, and I still can’t get enough. Record Store Day doesn’t make it any easier.
Guided By Voices, Please Be Honest, April 22
Back again? Oh, it’s another configuration.
Dolly Parton / Emmylou Harris / Linda Ronstadt, Complete Trio Collection, Sept. 9
Finally! This reissue was rumored to be available back in October 2015, on the same day as Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 4. Now it’s turned into a bigger deal, with simultaneous vinyl releases.
Lin-Manuel Miranada, Hamilton, April 15
This musical is more than two-hours long. I don’t think it’s all going to fit on two LPs.
Sonic Youth, Murray Street, April 22
I remember this album getting overplayed on the Waterloo Records in-store stereo system. I think it’s why I sold it for cash after a few years.
Rufus Wainwright, Poses, May 6
I didn’t like Rufus Wainwright at first. His nasal voice is an acquired taste, but the writing on Poses won me over, and I’ve been a fan ever since. This album appears on vinyl for the first time.
Moby, Play, May 13
I haven’t listened to this album in more than 15 years. I didn’t really need to because it wasn’t licensed to holy hell at the time.
Dolly Parton / Emmylou Harris / Linda Ronstadt, Trio II, Sept. 9
At the time this album was released, it seemed the trio couldn’t really give it a heavy promotional push. I remember one TV appearance where Linda Ronstadt lost it, and then everyone was back to boy bands and pop idols.
Record Store Day
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
Why limit this album to Record Store Day? Really, it should just be in print on vinyl. Period.
Clint Mansell / Kronos Quartet, Requiem for a Dream
I saw Requiem for a Dream with some friends during its theatrical release. I left the theater recognizing it was a good film. I just didn’t like it. I don’t own the soundtrack, and while I collect Kronos on vinyl when I can, I’m pretty ambivalent about this release.
Death Cab for Cutie, “Tractor Rape Chain / Black Sun”
I was nicely surprised by Death Cab for Cutie’s cover of “Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston. “Tractor Rape Chain” is also one my favorite Guided By Voices songs.
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, I Guess We’re a Fucking Surf Band After All
I have no doubts I won’t get my hands on this release, but I’m only interested in Savvy Show Stoppers. I hope at some point Yep Roc splits this box set into individual reissues.
I’ll admit Máire Brennan’s second solo album, Misty Eyed Adventures, took a few weeks of constant play before I grew to like it. That meant, of course, it would go on the chopping block in one of many collection purges. I bought it when it was released in 1996, and I imagine it exited my collection some time in the early 2000s.
The opening track, “Days of the Dancing”, is one of those songs you don’t forget easily. Máire, of course, is the voice of Clannad, and it’s a voice tightly coupled with Celtic music. “Days of the Dancing”, however, was rooted entirely in Spain. The Moor-ish modes, the Latin rhythms — it’s probably the furthest she’s ventured outside of the Brennan clan’s foundational sound.
I recently had a craving to hear that song again, and I thought the streaming services would have it. And they do — in the United Kingdom, not the United States. So it was down to the music shop I went where I found a used copy.
Hearing the album again, I’m struck by how reflective the title is to the music. Máire really does make some adventurous choices on this album. “Heroes” consists entirely of Máire and her singing siblings backed only by percussion. A re-recording of “Éirigh Suas A Stóirín” replaces the folk band with a string quartet out of an Arvo Pärt piece. Even the straight-forward cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” feels new.
So it made me think — why did I let this album go but kept her self-titled album, which is also not available on any streaming service in the US?
I’ll blame the impatience of youth. Máire was an easily likable album that quickly went in regular rotation on my Walkman and Discman. I had hopes Misty Eyed Adventures would be the same, but that effort to appreciate it served as a penalty when it came time for a purge. But the work to build that appreciation wasn’t as easily forgotten, and rediscovering it ended up a lot easier.
Back in October, I attended a conference in Chicago and stayed with my sister to save on hotel costs. When I’ve visited her in the past, I would pretty much ride along wherever they went, not really getting a sense of her neighborhood.
This time around, I scheduled a day where I would explore the city by myself, visiting as many record stores as I could before the conference started. Thankfully, almost all these stores had websites with searchable inventory, so I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to find.
Reckless Records has three locations, and somehow I managed to hit all three during my stay. Real estate in the city’s core is tight, so Reckless optimizes its space by filing only the CD booklets in its bins. That leaves floor space for records. I spent a lot of time on the store’s web site searching through my various wish lists and managed to find everything I’d intended to get. It’s probably the best way to shop because flipping through a stack of paper booklets is a lot more challenging than flipping through a bin of jewel cases. The Wicker Park and Lakeview locations are much larger than the location in the Loop, so I would recommend visiting those shops first.
I didn’t find anything on my shopping list at Dusty Grooves, but I do like the store’s layout. CDs take up the perimeter of the floor with records bins in the center. Disc cases are labeled with enough an artists name to scan quickly through an alphabetized section. For example, I looked for Bill Frisell in the jazz section and could quickly find approximately where he would be filed just by looking for the first three letters of his last name. Dusty Groove’s inventory gave off a very curated vibe — it’s not as thorough as the stock at Reckless, but it is diverse.
I had bought two copies of the Sibelius Symphony No. 1 conducted by Sir Colin Davis, and both had a lot of surface noise. Shuga Records’ web site indicated it had a copy, so I stopped by to see if I could grab it. It wasn’t on the floor, but the clerk at the counter did find it for me in a back room. The floor space is about half the size of Dusty Groove and the Wicker Park Reckless location, so it makes sense that some stock won’t be on the floor. As it turns out, the third time was the charm — Shuga’s copy of the Sibelius first symphony is the one I’m keeping.
Jazz Record Mart
I found a longbox at Jazz Record Mart. It was a copy of Where in the World? by the Bill Frisell Band, and if I didn’t already own the disc, I would have bought it. Jazz Record Mart was the most impressive store in my visit for its size and its focus. The floor space was easily as big if not larger than Reckless, but as its name indicates, the stock is almost entirely jazz. I went down the list of Naked City alumni and found everyone — Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Fred Frith, Joey Baron and John Zorn himself. There’s a tiny section for modern classical music and a cursory row for rock. But if you want jazz, this shop will have it.
My first reaction as I compiled this entry was, “Yay! Some of my favorite artists are releasing new music!” My second reaction was, “Why are they all waiting till April?”
Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness, April 1
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care tread familiar territory and felt a bit worn out. The preceding single from this new album, “Disintegration Anxiety”, sounds like the band is aiming for a new sound. I hope it’s a successful effort.
Duran Duran, Girls on Film – 1979 Demo, April 1
Andy Wickett offers a CD-R of the 1979 Duran Duran demo, but it looks like he’s licensed it to Cleopatra for a proper reissue.
Ben Watt, Fever Dream, April 8
I find it fascinating how Ben Watt has spent years building his DJ creds, but his solo work so far has nothing to do with the club.
Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth, April 15
Sturgill Simpson + concept album via Marvin Gaye = Take my money, please!
Rufus Wainwright, Take All My Loves: Nine Shakespeare Sonnets, April 22
I put more stock in Rufus Wainwright’s classical creds than any other pop star because his first effort in the genre was a full-blown opera.
UA, JaPo, May 11
I wondered where UA has been. She deserved a long break after more than a decade of releasing albums year after year. But which UA are we going to get — the adventurer or the tunesmith?
Ty Herndon, TBD, May 15
At the end of his El Corazón acoustic set back in Feb. 2016, Ty Herndon announced his new album would arrive on May 15, his first since coming out in 2014.
Sade, The Best of Sade, March 11
I already have the first three Sade albums on vinyl, and this compilation pretty much covers those albums. I don’t really need this record, but … I want it.
Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose, March 18
Has it really been more than a decade since Loretta Lynn did that whole thing with Jack White?
Janet Jackson, Unbreakable, April 1
I imagine all the clogged up record pressing plants prevented this album from being released at the same time as the CD.
Sonic Youth, Sister, April 8
Gradus ad Daydream Nation.
Patty Griffin, 1000 Kisses, April 15
This reissue will do nicely till Flaming Red gets somewhere on the release schedule.
If I stuck around just a few months more, I would have been an eMusic subscriber for a decade. Instead, I canceled my membership at the end of December 2015.
I also had a low-level Spotify subscription for about the price of a fancy drink at Starbucks every month, but I realized I only even launch the Spotify desktop application to update the Musicwhore.org Favorite Edition Playlists. So I canceled that subscription as well.
My streaming service of choice is now Google Play Music.
The music locker pretty much sewed it up for me. When Google Music launched, it offered space for 20,000 songs for free. Amazon had a similar offering with an up-sell to more space, but the size of my music library pretty much steered me in Google’s direction.
It took a number of years to fill that limit, which I did some time in 2013. By then, Google Music became Google Play Music and transformed itself into a streaming service. I signed up for a trial offer and liked the convenience of my uploaded library supplemented with the streaming offerings. I became a paying member and eventually shut out everything else.
eMusic had become an online version of Columbia House, where I had to download something every month to make the subscription worthwhile. I’ve accumulated a lot of digital flotsam and jetsam as a result. In a way, eMusic downloads became my replacement for pre-recorded cassettes, a convenient, sub-prime format to listen to an album. If I liked it enough, I’d buy a copy in a format with higher fidelity.
This idea of a “paid preview” allowed me to support artists on a graduated level — the more I liked the music, the more I would invest. When I signed up for eMusic in 2006, Spotify had only just launched in Europe, but I knew when it reached the US, my days as an eMusic member would be numbered. I’m actually surprised I hadn’t canceled years ago.
As it turned out, I hated the Spotify desktop application. Years of using Winamp and tolerating iTunes conditioned me to resist some of Spotify’s user experience choices. I can’t name them now because I was so thoroughly turned off that I went back to using eMusic and eventually adopted Google Music. But I kept the $5 subscription for fear of missing out on artist exclusives. It took some time before I realized I actually didn’t care for exclusivity in streaming services either. I’m not about to sign up for Tidal just to listen to Prince.
Google Play Music has so far ticked off all the boxes I require in an online music service. The locker stores the albums I own that the streaming service doesn’t provide, which is a lot given my tastes. The streaming service allows me to preview albums I may eventually buy, while throwing a few minuscule cents of royalties in the direction of the artist. I have the convenience of listening to NUMBER GIRL at work or at home, then switch over to a Cathy Dennis album I stream until I’ve made up my mind to buy it.
The only other comparable service would be Amazon Prime and its cloud storage, but the Music Manager desktop applications provided by Google Play Music have pretty much locked me into its platform. I do appreciate AutoRip on those rare occassions the two-day shipping isn’t fast enough.
I won’t consider Apple Music because that means I have to use iTunes. The only time I use iTunes is to manage my iPod. I hate iTunes on Windows more than I hate the Spotify desktop application.
Back in 2015, Nonesuch Records announced a huge reissue campaign for Henryk Górecki to tie in with the premiere release of his posthumous Symphony No. 4.
The reissues included a seven-disc box set of Nonesuch’s Górecki catalog and the vinyl release of his popular Symphony No. 3 featuring Dawn Upshaw. At first, these releases were set for September 2015, but they got pushed back to January 2016.
I fell for Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 like the millions of others who bolstered the album to the top of the classical charts. In the UK, it became a top 10 hit on the pop chart.
The Third Symphony was such a moving work that I was hesitant to explore his other pieces. Kronos Quartet introduced me to Górecki with its recordings of his string quartets, so I already knew the Third Symphony was a stylistic anomaly.
The intensity of Górecki’s work makes them intimidating to approach. When his compositions get quiet, they practically disappear. Then out of nowhere, a cluster of notes fly off the score.
The first movement of the Symphony No. 4 demonstrates this trait well. After three minutes of pounding a single idea, the orchestra gets quiet, almost silent. It’s a brief reprieve because the pounding continues just seconds later. Fiddling with the volume knob is useless.
As such, Górecki became one of those composers about whom I would genuinely be curious but not enough of a fan to get every recording.
The reissue campaign set me on course to change that.
Of the six albums previously released by Nonesuch, I owned half of them: the Third Symphony, and all three string quartets recorded by Kronos. The two albums I never owned were available on streaming services, but the one that wasn’t has the distinction of being the first Górecki album I ever bought: Lerchenmusik.
Lerchenmusik was paired with Kronos’ recording of his first string quartet. When Kronos reissued the first quartet to go along with a new recording his second quartet, I didn’t feel enough of an attachment to Lerchenmusik to hold onto it.
So I tracked a used copy of the album down to remind myself why. The first movement of the piece hugs the noise floor so tightly, you might think the CD was defective. It’s a lengthy work that doesn’t have the staying power of Three Pieces in the Old Style or the Harpsichord Concerto.
Reviews of the Fourth Symphony compared the work to the symphonies preceding the Third. Symphony No. 2 was easy to find, thanks to Naxos’ pervasive presence online and in retail. Symphony No. 1 was more of a challenge.
Koch Schwann released a recording of the First Symphony on the tail Symphony No. 3’s success, but after a series of acquisitions, the label’s catalog remains untapped.
Symphony No. 1 is steeped in modernism, and it establishes the harmonic language that would be the basis of his subsequent symphonies. But the work has few of his trademarks: the dynamic extremes, the folk melodies.
Symphony No. 2 actually hints at what would come in Symphony No. 3, but it employs a more extreme version of the harmonies explored by its predecessor. It starts off brutally but ends beautifully.
As tuneful as the Third may be, the symphonies surrounding it are actually a lot more interesting. They show off how skillfully Górecki could balance the past with the future.
It’s Górecki’s more tonal works, however, that listeners will flock to. When he eases up on the intensity, he can spin a melody. Three Pieces in the Old Style probably rivals the Third Symphony in terms of available recordings.