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Symphony No.2 (1965/1967) [27:21]
Symphony No.4 (1992) [22:54]
NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Jacek Kaspszyk
rec. 16-18 June 2009, Jan Kaczmarek Concert Hall of Radio Wroclaw
ACD 161-2 [50:28]
Beautifully presented in a nice slipcase and with a substantial
booklet, this Opera Omnia series of recordings of the
work of Witold Lutoslawski already has plenty of competition.
The Symphony No. 2 as recorded by Lutoslawski himself
with the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra on the bargain
CD set EMI 2 15318 2 might legitimately be taken as definitive,
and is indeed very fine even considering its 1970s vintage (reviewreview).
This new Wroclaw recording is similar in many respects, though
the ‘Hesitant’ subtitle of the first brass section is taken
a little more literally by Jacek Kaspszyk, the tumult of notes
initially a little more reserved. All of the sonic textures
and contrasts are beautifully captured here, and the playing
is very good indeed. The Symphony No.2 is a work of eruptions
large and small, flowing streams of selected notes, articulations
and rhythms from the different sections in a kind of aleatoric
‘concerto for orchestra’. The second movement, subtitled ‘Direct’,
emerges from lowing basses and sliding strings to a series of
textures and ideas of terrific impact. The harmonic effect of
brass and strings about two minutes in always makes my hair
try to stand on end, and it is here that the newer recording
has a telling advantage, the elderly recording under the conductor
still very effective, but more of a chaos of sound rather than
the sense of layers and detail you have with this new recording.
Another competitor; that from conductor Antoni Wit with the
same Polish NRSO in 1994 on Naxos 8.553169 also has the benefit
of digital recording technology, but his overall sound is more
general, his gestures less theatrical and the impact less hair-raising.
In other words, Kaspszyk comes out top dog with this Symphony
Lutoslawski’s Symphony No.4 is an almost entirely different
animal, integrating more traditional aspects of Western orchestral
composition with the composer’s individual and instantly recognisable
language. It does share a fragmentary or block-structured feel
with the Second Symphony, having what at first seem to be unrelated
juxtapositions of atmosphere and melodic intent. Material develops
with parallel logic however, and while the mysterious nature
of the piece never really reveals its enigmatic secrets there
is plenty with which the mind can get to grips and relish. The
figure responsible for its commission and a champion of the
work is Esa-Pekka Salonen, and his Sony recording is in a class
of its own (review).
Here my comparison is again with Antoni Wit on Naxos 8.553202
which is very good indeed, but again without quite the sense
of involvement I feel from Jacek Kaspszyk. “One must play exactly
what is written in the score” the conductor is reported as saying
in the booklet notes, which has to be true, but doesn’t deliver
the entire story. Kaspszyk generates a sense of urgency and
commitment in his players which makes the music all the more
convincing. The strings are more forward in the recording which
helps balance things more effectively, but one has the feeling
with this newer recording that any sense of transition is banished
entirely – every note equal in significance and expressive potential,
whether accompanying and background, solo figuration or massed
melodic statement. With Wit the Symphony No.4 is a remarkable
orchestral piece; with Kaspszyk it grows into something which
infests your imagination, a voiceless opera for the mind, filled
with strange visions, dark characters and deeply dramatic moods.
This Opera Omnia series and the Project National Music
Forum in Wroclaw is one on which it is worth keeping a close
eye. With all-round high production values this is an object
to treasure and a recording with terrific staying power.
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