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Symphonic Variations Concerto for Orchestra
Symphony No. 1 Jeux venitiens
Musique funebre Livre pour orchestre
Symphony No. 2 Mi parti

Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra - Witold Lutoslawski
recorded at Polish Radio & TV Studios, Katowice,a co-production with EMI and Polish Radio and TV May and June, 1976, and December 1977.
EMI Double Forte CZS5 73833-2 - 2 discs - ADD - Stereo
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Here is one of EMI's re-releases of 20th Century orchestral repertoire which deserves the widest circulation. It is a straight reissue of two separately available discs in EMI's Matrix series which were available a few years ago. Here they are again, this time boxed together, in a cheaper twofer package, with a much improved cover, and a rewrite of the informative sleeve notes. Emblazoned on the sleeve is the ART logo (Abbey Road Technology) but I can hear little evidence of any improvement over the earlier issue. Could this possibly be because the release date of this package is labelled as having been remastered in 1994, the same date as for the separate discs. If this is so, then EMI are a little naughty in trying to persuade us that this is a brand new reprocessed release. In fact they have also labelled the new recordings with the 1994 remastering date.

Having got that off my chest, I have nothing but praise for this issue. The orchestra, currently making a further name for itself as a prime Naxos recording band, plays superbly for the composer, as is often common. When faced with the creator of the music, many orchestras seem to try that little bit harder than for a non-composing conductor, thus negating possible shortcomings in the composer's skills. We need not worry here as Lutoslawski made quite a name for himself as a conductor of his and other's works.

The two discs give an overview of Lutoslawski's orchestral output, covering the time period between 1936 to 1976. This period saw him develop from the Stalinist constraints to the style of early Stravinsky, albeit with his own very personal language. We move on from the Symphonic Variations to the First Symphony, where Hindemith and Bartok are strong influences. The Concerto for Orchestra (1950-54) is a superb example of Lutoslawski's skill in writing for a full orchestra, and is seen as the end of his first period.

EMI then takes us through the next stages of his life with the Musique Funebre (1954-58), Jeux vénitiens (1960-61), the Second Symphony (1965-67). His later style is typified by Livre pour orchestre (1968), and finally we progress to Mi-parti (1976-76), written for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam. This anthology is not complete, but it will give the keen listener a very good background to the language of this wonderful 20th Century composer.

Would I buy it? Certainly, but don't, if you have the separate Matrix issues in a vain attempt to upgrade. All you will achieve is half the shelf space.


John Phillips


John Phillips

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