According to Dominy Clements in his review on this website, this disc is “more than just a souvenir”. I would echo this and add that for some of these works this could very well become the preferred recording. Lutoslawski was always a fine conductor of his own works. The fact that this was taken from a live concert, and the composer’s last one at that, delivers a certain frisson that is not always apparent in the studio. Overall, these are well played (and sung) and idiomatically interpreted accounts, and the selection provides plenty of variety for music composed within the same decade at the height of the composer’s career.
The performances of the Partita, Interlude, and Chain 2 come in direct competition with those on an earlier CD (Naxos 8.553202), part of the series conducted by Antoni Wit that has garnered considerable praise from the critics. Both the Partita in its orchestral version and Chain 2 were premiered by their dedicatee, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and recorded for DG with the composer conducting. Later at Paul Sacher’s suggestion, Lutoslawski added an orchestral Interlude without solo violin to separate the two works and create a triptych, in which form the work received its first performance on 10 January 1990. The order of the three compositions as presented here follows that of the premiere, whereas that on the earlier Naxos CD begins with Chain 2 and ends with the Partita. I do not see that it makes any difference, since one does not consider the whole triptych as a concerto as such but rather as a triptych with the two main works being able to stand alone in performance. I do not have the Mutter recording at hand, but the other two seem fairly evenly matched. Both are excellent and do full justice to the music.
Chain 1, the earliest of the selections on this disc, is an orchestral tour de force, something like a mini concerto for orchestra. Antoni Wit’s account on Naxos 8.555763 is rather bolder and more outgoing than the one from the composer’s last concert. However, Lutoslawski’s has its own rewards: in its more subtle way, it flatters the inner parts of the orchestra, especially during the quieter moments. If I had to choose, I would probably stick with Wit, but I can also appreciate what the composer does here.
With the songs, Chantefleurs et Chantefables, the competition is keener. I became acquainted with these songs from Dawn Upshaw’s performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen on Sony SK 67189. These songs contain some of Lutosławski’s most delicate and memorable writing. The danger is to over-interpret them and make more of them than what is there. I compared the present recording by Canadian soprano Valdine Anderson with Upshaw’s and one by Olga Pasiercznik on a disc in the Naxos series conducted by Antoni Wit (Naxos 8.554283). Anderson’s seems the most direct, Pasiercznik’s the most withdrawn, and Upshaw’s the most dramatic. All are successful and none really over-interpret, though Upshaw comes close at times. I am certain that Upshaw’s would be interesting and great fun to watch in a live performance, but I now lean more towards Anderson’s direct but very expressive interpretation. Pasiercznik lacks some of the life of the other two, though her more backward placement could be at least partly responsible for that. She is never less than accomplished. The composer on the present disc also brings out the orchestral accompaniment better than either Wit or Salonen.
To sum up, then, this disc is a must for any fan of Lutosławski. The fact that it is his last concert, and one so well performed and recorded, is an added incentive. The notes in the accompanying booklet are up to Naxos’s high standards and the price is right.
see also review by Dominy