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Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913 – 1994)
Twenty Polish Christmas Carols (1948)a [40:05]
Lacrimosa (1937)a [3:37]
Five Songs (1957)b [10:39]
Olga Pasichnyk (soprano)a; Jadwiga Rappé (alto)b
Polish Radio Chorus, Kracówa
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice, December 2001 (Polish Christmas Carols, Lacrimosa) and January 1997 (Five Songs)
NAXOS 8.555994 [54:22]

In 1937 Lutosławski composed a Requiem sequence, of which the beautifully moving Lacrimosa is the only surviving section. Another section Requiem aeternam was destroyed during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The piece sheds precious light on the composer’s early music. It is in fact his earliest piece still in existence since it predates the Variations for Orchestra and the Paganini Variations. The music sometimes recalls that of late Szymanowski (e.g. the Stabat Mater Op.53 and the short beautiful Litany to the Virgin Op.59).

The Twenty Polish Christmas Carols were originally written for soprano and piano in 1946. The sequence belongs to a number of folk-based or folk-inflected pieces written during the decade following the end of World War II. Reverting to folk tradition was Lutosławski’s response to the dictates of the so-called Socialist Realism. It allowed him to preserve his artistic integrity without compromising in one way or another. This period culminated in the masterly Concerto for Orchestra. By that time, the political climate had thawed, and the composer was able to develop his stylistic palette. In 1985, he arranged thirteen carols for soprano, female voices and orchestra, and in 1989 transcribed the rest. The whole set is a gem of simplicity and subtlety. The composer never tries to make his settings bigger than life, but manages to preserve the natural simplicity of the tunes, some of which – I am sure – will sound familiar. A beautiful, if unusual Christmas offering.

By the time he composed the Five Songs of 1957 - to words by the Lithuanian-born Kazimiera Illakowicz - Lutosławski was progressively freeing himself from the 20th Century mainstream tradition by exploring new stylistic means and by enlarging his expressive palette. These settings were written at about the same time as the magnificent Funeral Music for strings with which the composer began expanding his techniques by adopting twelve-tone writing, though he never adopted serialism as such. The Five Songs are fine, colourful and varied settings of Illakowicz’s equally vivid verse. Five Songs is undoubtedly Lutosławski’s first major orchestral song-cycle paving the way for later masterpieces such as Paroles Tissées and Les Espaces du Sommeil. Incidentally, words are not printed in the notes but can be found on www.naxos.com/libretti/20carols.htm .

In the hands of Antoni Wit, arch-champion of Lutosławski’s music, and with excellent soloists and chorus, these performances are ideal. I was delighted to hear Olga Pasichnyk again; she was one of the brilliant finalists of the 2000 Queen Elisabeth International Competition. Jadwige Rappé, too, sings beautifully in Five Songs, a reading that compares most favourably with that of Solveig Kringelborn on Virgin Classics 7243 5 45275 2, a magnificent Lutosławski selection still worth having (a superb reading of Preludes and Fugue, and of Chantefleurs et Chantefables, one of the composer’s loveliest song-cycles). All in all, a lovely disc.

 

Hubert Culot

See also review by Dominy Clements - Bargain of the Month

 

 



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