Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Preludes and Fugue for 13 solo strings (1972) [35:41]
Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Chamber Orchestra (1980) [20:15]
Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Lucy Wakeford (harp)
NFM Wroclaw Chamber Orchestra Leopoldinum/Ernst Kovacic
NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Daniel
rec. Witold Lutoslawski Philharmonic Concert Hall, Wroclaw, 18-19 September 2009 (Preludes amd Fugue) and 18 October 2008 (Double Concerto)
CD ACCORD Digipack ACD 166-2 [56:09]

Presented in the same luxury format as the others in the series (see review of Vol.2), these recordings once again go up against those on the Naxos label with Antoni Wit. The Preludes and Fugue on 8.555270 (see review) is superbly intense, with all of the chamber-music sparkle and dramatic contrasts one could want from this piece. Kovacic's players are set in a marginally more resonant acoustic, and this allows the textures to spread a more effectively when the writing becomes more ‘orchestral’. The strings of the Wroclaw Chamber Orchestra (Leopoldinum) do a superb job, though it is almost as if a tinge of Baroque historical performance style has entered their playing, with a cleaner tone and lesser degrees of vibrato when compared with Wit’s Polish National RS orchestra. I like both recordings and appreciate the fine qualities of this CD Accord production, but there are some gains to be had in the aforementioned intensity of the Naxos recording. It is where the eloquence of some passages in the Preludium 3 for instance, that the clarity of the Wroclaw playing begins to tell. The little pizzicato sections and fragmentary notes here and elsewhere also have a more natural, less self-conscious feel, and the spine-tingling sustained effects from Preludium 4 grow out of an emotional base which seems to have its roots in a far deeper and darker, more violent place. The final Fuga brings a catch to my throat and tears to my eyes in this recording, so good is it.
The Double Concerto is to be found on Naxos 8.555763, and with another very good recording and performance with Antoni Wit (see review). Nicholas Daniel is in a league of his own, but oboist Arkadiusz Krupa and harpist Nicolas Talliez give away little to the soloists here. It is the presence and impact of the Wroclaw strings which makes the opening to this piece more impressive than the Naxos recording, and with everything else very much in place the choice is a relatively easy one – unless budget should be your over-riding concern. Daniel’s poetry is not only evident in the slow and lyrical central Dolente, but is also an element in the vocal hysteria of the opening Rapsodico, and the variety of his articulation and technical prowess is stunning throughout. Lucy Wakeford’s harp is equally effective in musical terms, though with a realistic concert balance it is less forward in the mix than with the Naxos recording, and therefore blends as much as it blings when the rest of the orchestra is also in full flow. Her sensitivity of touch is given space in the Dolente movement, and cuts through the Marciale e grotesco over the tightly disciplined playing of the orchestra, where the more immediate balance makes all the difference when compared to the more distant details of the Naxos recording. All of those kicking little slides and percussive touches hit home marvellously with the Wroclaw recording, and Daniel’s oboe sounds are a real treat.
Once again, the Polish Lutoslawski ‘Collected Works Release Project’ shows the way in creating recordings with lasting impact, packaged in a desirable and useful format with a booklet full of intelligent commentary. It might have been nice if they’d squeezed one or two more works into the programme given the duration, but as it stands this is the gold standard.
Dominy Clements
Gold standard.