Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Musique funèbre (1954-58) [13:55]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rumanian Folk Dances (1917) [6:26]
Divertimento (1939) [26:23]
Seven Songs from 27 Two- and Three-Part Choruses (1935-41)* [14:01]
Hungarian Radio Children’s Choir*
Stuttgarter Kammerorkest/Dennis Russell Davies
rec. May 2004 and February 2010, Liederhalle, Stuttgart
ECM NEW SERIES ECM 2169 [60:45]
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.
Dominy Clements
Good place for a Lutosławski/Bartók fix - albeit a slightly disjointed one.