I have read a few reviews of this disc already. All of them, quite rightly, emphasise
the connections of the two main works here with the great cellist Rostropovich.
He gave the premieres and first recorded them in 1974, originally on LP since
reissued on EMI
Classics. I am still the proud possessor of the original LP (HMV ASD3145)
and very good it sounds, even now. It’s worth adding that Boris Pergamenschikov
has also recorded the work for Chandos under the insight of Yan Pascal Tortelier
and the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos (CHAN9565), a version not mentioned much
in the press reviews but one I especially heard before tackling this new recording.
When you listen to Dutilleux bear in mind that this is a composer whose life-blood
is fantasy and poetry. Fantasy figures in terms of lack of strict forms and exotic
orchestrations inclduing a wide variety of percussion. Poetry has its place not
only directly, as here, but in terms of long, lyrical lines both from the soloist
and instruments within the orchestration.
The title of the Dutilleux work is taken from the words of poet Charles Baudelaire
whose symbolist-mystical poetry formed its inspiration. Each movement is headed
by a quote, given in the booklet. Apparently these were added later. The first
section, ‘Enigma’ is succinctly marked “... And in this strange
and symbolic nature”.
Three movements, that is part of the first, most of the third ‘Houles’ and
the whole of the final ‘Hymne’ are fast; the rest are mostly magically
All three performances, that is including the original Rostropovich one are,
it seems to me, of equal beauty although the latter also has historic interest.
And in each the recording quality is not an issue. But in this new BIS CD I
find that I hear more orchestral detail than before. I think this is because
de Paris for Baudo and EMI is set just a little further away from the soloist’s
space and mics. That remark applies to both concertos. Poltéra seems to
be more sensitive to small details but I don’t especially like his throw-away
ending. Pergamenschikov has a slightly more powerful attack throughout and is
somewhat faster in the ‘Miroirs’ movement. In all he is two and a
half minutes quicker than Poltéra. So, you pays your money and you takes
The Lutosławski Concerto is a tougher work to crack. When I first heard
it as a sixth former it seemed to be incredibly modern. On that original EMI
LP one hears the authentic voice of the composer who conducts. It opens with
a sort of cadenza based around one note which Poltéra does brilliantly
and which the composer marks uniquely ‘with a frivolous atmosphere’.
This is not however a ‘frivolous work’. Indeed, reading the typically
fascinating and insightful booklet notes by Arnold Whittall one realizes that
there could well be a socio-political backdrop to this piece, written as it was,
at a time of great stress in relationships between the Communist Bloc, Russia
and the European west. It contrasts with Dutilleux in that it plays without a
break despite the fact that, according to Whittall, it falls into seventeen sections.
More significantly it is a traditional concerto in one respect: it inhabits the
world of soloist-against-orchestra in which the soloist comes out of it a little ‘battered
and bruised’ but with an element of victory over the oppressor. By contrast,
in the Dutilleux the cello weaves around the orchestra - sometimes partner, sometimes
leader, sometimes taking a back-seat for the sake of the overall soundscape.
Lutosławski encapsulates ‘drama’; Dutilleux addresses the
French sensibility of beauty for its own sake.
The couplings are interesting. The Chandos CD has other Dutilleux, for example ‘Metaboles’.
Here Christian Polterá, quite logically, gives us another brief work by
each of the composers. Lutosławski’s Sacher Variation is
a bit of a ‘chip off the old block’, linking to the world of the concerto.
The six letters of Paul Sacher’s surname are set as a row against the remaining
six notes of the scale in an ingenious cross-referencing of ideas which retains
interest throughout. Dutilleux also takes the great musical entrepreneur’s
name in his Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher and develops it into a
three (brief) movement piece ending in a virtuoso scherzo that would surely have
pleased this great supporter of twentieth century composers.
This is a very fine release, superbly recorded and played. If you are new to
these works then I can think of no other versions which quite match up to the
demands of modern day listeners.