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Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Dance Preludes for clarinet and orchestra (1954-9)
Double Concerto (1980)
Grave: Metamorphoses (1981)
Chain I (1983)
Two Children’s Songs (1948)
Six Children’s Songs (1959)
Zbigniew Kaleta (clarinet), Arkadiusz Krupa oboe), Nicolas Talliez (harp), Rafael Kwiatkowski (cello), Urszula Kryger (soprano)
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Rec. Jan-Apr 2001, Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice
NAXOS 8.555763 [57.34]

Lutosławski was one of the most important composers of the second half of the 20th century. His early works were relatively conservative in style, often making use of folk material. However, following the inauguration in 1956 of the Warsaw Autumn Festival, one of the world's leading festivals of contemporary music, he embarked upon a new phase in his artistic development. This coincided with Poland making renewed contact with the prominent forces of the musical life of the West.

Lutosławski gained an international reputation as a distinctly modernist voice with a clearly individual personality. For more than thirty years from that time he produced a succession of masterpieces for the world's leading soloists and orchestras.

This CD is labeled as Volume 8 in the Naxos Lutosławski series, and therefore it may be the last of these issues. The reason for this equivocation is that this disc seems to gather many shorter pieces. It may be possible that other fragments may lurk awaiting performance and recording.

Be that as it may, this particular combination is imaginatively put together, well documented and thoroughly enjoyable. Over the years Lutosławski wrote many pieces described as ‘children’s songs’, and eight of these are collected here. The earlier pair have a distinctively ‘folksy style’, at once direct and appealing, with Urszula Kryger an appropriately fresh-voiced soloist. The later songs are no less attractive, and are equally well sung if somewhat more sophisticated in approach. There is pointed wit in the lively songs, but the pick of them all is probably ‘The Brook’, which generates a richly lyrical intensity.

Those who know the Dance Preludes in the version for clarinet and piano can rest assured that Lutosławski’s skilful orchestral arrangement does not eclipse the original version, even when it is as well played as it is here. The brief Grave, subtitled Metamorphoses for cello and string orchestra, is rather densely scored, which reflects its intensely emotional nature. This is a short piece of less than six minutes’ duration, but its character makes it seem bigger than that.

It was for Heinz and Ursula Holliger that Lutosławski composed his Double Concerto for oboe, harp and chamber orchestra, surely one of his best pieces for mixed ensemble. Few modern composers have been as resourceful in adapting to the demands of particular instrumental combinations, so this piece can rank as a classic of the later 20th century. The recording, like the performance, captures the music in keen profile.

Another masterly score in this collection is Chain I, composed for the London Sinfonietta in 1983. This is a particularly vibrant and distinctive score, and challenging too. Although the recorded sound lacks a little in depth it is more than acceptable, while the performance, like the others in this collection conducted by the admirable Antoni Wit, is vital and committed.

Terry Barfoot


see also reviews by Tony Haywood and Colin Clarke


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