This might at first glance seem a bit random as far as programming
goes, but when you read about the influence Bartók had
on Lutosławski and about the unique dedication, A la
mémoire de Béla Bartók, the only one
Lutosławski gave in any of his works to another composer,
then everything begins to slot into place.
Superbly performed and recorded on this CD, Lutosławski’s
Musique funèbre builds in counterpoint
and concentration with startling clarity and needle-sharp accuracy
under Dennis Russell Davies’s directorship. The composer’s
own recording, to be found in various guises on the EMI label, is a little more atmospheric and a little less direct,
but still an excellent reference. The Stuttgart strings are
however considerably more accurate in the tricky central passages.
With chilling desolation on every page this is a performance
to thrill the soul.
Placing Bartók’s Rumanian Folk Dances directly
after such a deeply searching musical statement is unusual,
but we’re looking for the unusual are we not? The pieces
are given a greater poignancy, which is only partly to do with
their context. Russell Davies doesn’t go out of his way
to try to get us out of our seats and dancing in the aisles.
The soulful nature of these dances comes across beautifully.
The Musique funèbre’s soulmate in this programme
is Bartók’s Divertimento, the last work
he completed in Europe before his emigration to America. Acutely
observed Hungarian folk elements suffuse the outer movements,
both superbly performed here. Even so, they’re not quite
as punchy and upliftingly rhythmic as Iona Brown and the Norwegian
Chamber Orchestra on Chandos CHAN9816. The central Molto
adagio goes to the heart of everything with its close-knit,
movingly expansive central section. Russell Davies isn’t
quite as hysterical in his climax here as the Trondheim Soloists
on the 2L label, 2L050SABD. He is perhaps a little closer
to the emotional rawness of the music in this movement than
the aforementioned Norwegian CO. This may be due to the closer
balance of the recording and the more compact sounding ensemble.
The long and short of it is that there are many excellent recordings
out there. I don’t feel this one is definitively the best
there is to be had, excellent though it undoubtedly is. In these
cases it is the couplings that will swing it for most people.
Either that, or if like me you are sold on the ECM ethos and
just fancy having another one of those darkly stylishly discs
for your collection.
The closing sequence is a selection from the 27 Two- and
Three-Part Choruses. The ear is at first alerted to something
different by the snare drum which pops out in the first song,
Hussar, and further pleasantly surprised by superb Hungarian
voices. This sounds like a live recording, though isn’t
listed as such. Superbly transparent and airy, these songs were
written by Bartók as part of the folk texts set for Zoltán
Kodály’s educational programme. As Wolfgang Sandner
points out in his booklet notes, Bartók “took children
seriously by not accommodating them.” In other words this
is grown-up music: easy on the ear but by no means easy to perform.
If you are interested in these in their complete and original
a capella form I can point you towards the Hungaroton
label, which has excellent recordings done by the Schola Hungarica
directed by Laszló Dobszay. The selection here with its
added orchestra including winds and occasional sparkly or percussive
piano notes makes for an attractive sequence.
Despite the Bartók dedication this is something of a
programmatic oddity, especially given the chorus songs at the
end of it all. We start in genuine gloom and end in uplifting
sunshine which is always a good journey to take, but in this
case something of a disjointed one. Never mind, you can never
have quite enough Lutosławski and Bartók, and this
is a fine disc from which to take your fix.