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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Concerto for Orchestra (1954) [29’48]
Cello Concerto (1970) [25’20]
Rafal Kwiatkowski (cello)
Warsaw Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Recorded in the Great Hall of the Warsaw Philharmonic, December 2004
DUX 0499 [55:13]

I doubt if there’s a more experienced Lutosławski conductor around today than Antoni Wit. Hot on the heels of his very well received complete edition for Naxos, he’s obviously felt the need to revisit these two works, using another crack Polish orchestra and young soloist. Whether they improve on his Naxos performances is open to question but there is no doubt as to the power and persuasive qualities on offer here.

The Concerto for Orchestra is justly Lutosławski’s most popular orchestral work and the finest example in the genre outside Bartók’s. I have always stood by the composer’s own rendition, fast and powerfully raw but a little scrappily played and brightly recorded. It now forms part of an indispensable collection of the composer conducting some of his major works on an EMI Forte Double pack - great value. However, it does benefit from modern digital sound, which it gets on excellent discs from Tortelier (Chandos) and Barenboim (Erato). This Dux recording from Poland is very good, aside from what appears to be a touch of false highlighting of certain instruments, especially piano and some percussion. The opening Intrada has great weight and presence, the pounding rhythm grabbing the attention immediately. The bold and vivid colours are vividly realized by Wit, who must have conducted this work more than most. He is a fraction slower than the composer, but this only helps to build the cumulative tension. The mercurial half-lights of the central Capriccio notturno are well done; here, Wit is faster than Lutosławski and his orchestra is more virtuosic, capturing every twist and turn in the music. The long finale, structured as Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale, is the most difficult to bring off. Wit is actually more faithful to the score’s dynamics than the composer in places - the tricky relationship of woodwind to brass at 3’51 is a good case in point. All in all, a very convincing and powerful performance of a masterly score.

The Cello Concerto is equally colourful and also got an excellent outing on the Naxos cycle. Here, the young Polish cellist Rafal Kwiatkowski is very much on top of the work, grading the aleatoric elements of the long opening solo with just the right degree of improvisatory freedom and structural clarity. Wit shapes the blazing brass interjections that follow with power and force rather than vulgarity, and this attention to detail without losing sight of the bigger picture really is at the heart of this excellent interpretation. Of course, the composer again recorded this work with the formidable dedicatee, Rostropovich, but whatever authority that has is offset by a rather harsh recording and forward balance of the soloist.

I don’t think this disc suffers by comparison to any other, including the composer, on artistic or audio grounds, but it is the duty of reviewers to point out that it is full price – that is, more than double the cost of Wit’s own Naxos discs. It is also not as well filled at only 55 minutes. That said, this is music-making of a very high order and if you like the coupling, don’t hesitate.

Tony Haywood

 

 



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