Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913–1994)
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
CD ACCORD 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 3 CD set EMI 2 15318 2 might legitimately be taken as definitive, and is indeed very fine even considering its 1970s vintage (review review). 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 No.2.
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.
Dominy Clements
High production values and terrific staying power.