Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913 – 1994)
Orchestral Works II
Symphonic Variations (1936/38) [9:29]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1987/88) [26:20]
Variations on a theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra (1978) [8:44]
Symphony No. 4 (1988/92) [22:24]
Louis Lortie (piano) (Concerto, Variations)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. 29-30 June 2011, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, England
SACD Hybrid Multi-channel Stereo
CHANDOS CHSA 5098 [67:25]

Titled Orchestral Works II Chandos have released the third volume in their impressive series devoted to renowned Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. Now considered to be at the heart of the European mainstream Lutoslawski in the late 1950s experimented with progressive techniques including serialism and aleatoric processes. Although there are many today whose music would be considered more difficult than that of Lutoslawski in truth it took me a considerable time and much concentration before I began to gain manifold rewards from his music.
Opening the release is the Symphonic Variations composed whilst Lutoslawski was studying with Witold Maliszewski at the Warsaw Conservatory. His teacher was unimpressed and informed him: “For me your work is ugly”. Amid the destruction caused by the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 Lutoslawski lost the majority of his music scores. His first orchestral work to survive is the short Symphonic Variations which is also one of his most traditional and accessible scores. In the energetic, edgy and melodic in both the second and third movements I could hear strong echoes of the colourful sound-world of Stravinsky’s The Firebird.
From 1978 the Variations on a theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra is an arrangement of Niccolò Paganini’s famous 24th Caprice for solo violin. This work was prepared from the 1941 instrumental Variations on a theme of Paganini for two pianos. Mainly brisk and exuberant the often thrilling writing makes this an appealing score for both soloist and audience.
The last of the concertante works is the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra from 1987/88 dedicated to Krystian Zimerman. This substantial four movement score played without a break features competing styles between traditional Romantic forms and more progressive material. Often the piano is exploited for its percussive as well as its cantilena qualities. In the Finale Lutoslawski employs two streams of music: one connected to the piano, the other to the orchestra. There’s an intermittent chaconne before the streams combine for an energetic Coda.
Composed over a four year period from 1988/92, Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 4 was premièred in 1993 just a year before his death. Cast in one continuous movement the score has two distinct sections; the first serving as a musical aperitif, the second undoubtedly the main course. In the first section I enjoyed the changeable interludes of swift and less conventional writing. The second section contains sparkling orchestral writing that expands through the orchestra. There is a notable cantabile idea that increases in intensity and urgency. This culminates in a mighty climax.
A fine choice as soloist Louis Lortie plays the two bittersweet piano scores with enthusiasm and verve. The BBC Symphony Orchestra under conductor Edward Gardner rises splendidly to the challenges of Lutoslawski’s bold writing. It’s a varied synthesis of orchestral textures. Gardner’s control of the diverse contrasts feels authoritative without being inflexible.
Beautifully recorded at the Walthamstow Assembly Hall in 2011 this splendidly presented release is kitted out with the usual high quality Chandos booklet notes. It makes a fine introduction to Lutoslawski’s music.
Michael Cookson

A fine introduction to Lutoslawski’s music.