I had been wondering recently if Lutosławski’s
music was disappearing from the horizon when his new CD landed
heavily on the doormat.
As the extensive booklet essay points out, we
think of Lutosławski primarily as a master magician for
the orchestra. However, as these pieces show, chamber music
ran like a thread throughout his life and is worthy of our undivided
The String Quartet is the longest and
most significant work here. It was written at a time when the
composer was experimenting with form and notation. A little
influenced by general avant-garde European developments, the
scurrying sounds heard from time to time reminded me strongly
of Ligeti, especially of his Second Quartet. Lutosławski
favours a two-movement form with the opening nine minutes entitled
‘Introductory’ and the rest as ‘Main’ although they play without
a break. The composer also used this successful and personal
format in his Second Symphony of 1967 and in his Mi-Parti
of 1976. Also to be found in this Quartet is his characteristic
use of ’mobiles’ where the performers are given a freedom of
rhythm based around certain pitches. The composer wanted not
to use bar-lines in this work although that proved mostly to
be unrealistic. These improvisatory sections are divided by
a randomly placed and rather gruff unison passage in the first
movement and a cello motif in the second. The work is fascinating
but remains less than ingratiating.
The second longest piece on the disc is the five
movement Partita in this version for violin and piano.
There is another version brilliantly orchestrated and dedicated
to Anne-Sophie Mutter which also has a major piano role. Later,
that work was complemented by Chain 2 - also written
for Mutter and serving as a fine follow-up. In reality Partita
is a three movement piece with the initial two sections making
a first movement then a Largo second movement to stand
alone followed by an ad libitum and a Presto which
serves as the final section. This latter bursts with accumulated
energy and makes a great contrast with the cantabile Largo
which precedes it. In this later music all is notated and
there are even hints of the baroque.
But in all of this it is possible to forget that
the root of Lutosławski’s music lies in the folk melodies
of his native eastern European soil. These are encapsulated
in the music of his first love: Bela Bartók. Several works on
this disc allow us an insight into this attachment. In the forties
and fifties composers were expected to toe the party line and
write music which was immediately acceptable to the masses.
These pieces are written with a real love and understanding.
Bucolics for example even sounds like Bartók. It comprises
arrangements of tunes from the Kurpie region drawn from the
same selection of tunes used by Szymanowski in his Kurpian
Songs. Bucolics is all done and dusted very quickly:
you dance and you weep and you whistle. This is helped by an
exceedingly spirited performance which gives great joy and delight.
The aphoristic Four Silesian melodies likewise fit this
profile and remind us of the composer’s own early orchestral
song success the Silesian Triptych of 1951.
The brief Recitative and Arioso says quite
a lot in its less than four minutes duration. Oddly enough you
might think from the title that this a bi-partite structure.
In fact the recitative makes an appearance at the end and gives
a ternary feel to the piece. Again its modal ambience gives
it a warm folk-inspired feeling but with a somewhat troubled
outlook even if it is smiling through the tears.
Grave - Metamorphosis is a brief, impassioned
and at times angry peroration in memory of a close friend of
the composer. It grinds its way to a powerful climax before
fizzling out. Bauer and Broja play it superbly: very moving.
Incidentally, all of these wonderful performances are aided
by one of the best recordings of chamber music I have heard
for a long time. It is immediate but not overpowering and is
The remaining pieces are also miniatures. Subito,
written as a brilliant competition piece, is Lutosławski’s
last work. The Sacher-Variation (note the singular) was
composed around the letters of the conductor Paul Sacher’s name.
Yet to describe these as miniatures gives the wrong impression.
In their brevity they pack a strong emotional punch and are,
like pearls, perfectly formed.
There are extensive performer biographies and
photographs in the heavy but beautifully presented booklet.
The useful essay is by Anna Kaspsyk and it’s nicely translated.
As I have said, these performance are terrific
and very committed. The disc bodes well for the series as a
whole. Naxos recorded all of Lutosławski’s orchestral works
however a complete edition of Lutosławski’s music is much
needed. This disc makes a brilliant start.