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Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Orchestral Works - III
Mała Suite (or Little Suite) (1950) [10:13]
Concerto for cello and orchestra (1969/70) [23:53]
Grave for cello solo and string orchestra (1982) [5:36]
Symphony No. 2 (1965/67) [29:51]
Paul Watkins (cello)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. 5-6 December 2011, Watford Colosseum, England
SACD Hybrid Multi-channel Stereo
CHANDOS CHSA 5106 [70:04]

Experience Classicsonline

This release continues the Chandos Lutosławski series now at volume four. Considered to be a composer at the heart of the European mainstream Lutosławski in the late 1950s experimented with progressive techniques including serialism and aleatoric (dependant on chance/luck) processes. There are many composers today whose music would be generally considered as more challenging than Lutosławski’s but in truth it took me a considerable time and much concentration before I began to gain the rewards I now obtain from listening to his music. 

The Mała Suite (or Little Suite) is for chamber orchestra and was a commission from Warsaw Radio written in 1950 in the midst of the Soviet oppression. Lutosławski revised and enlarged the orchestration for symphony orchestra in 1951. In this four movement score folk melodies are employed - themes collected from the village of Machów near Rzeszów in south-eastern Poland. It’s accessible and highly attractive and far more substantial than its title might at first suggest. The first movement Fujarka (Fife) is an appealingly melodic Allegretto just bustling with activity. Prominent piccolo figures combine with drums to give a curious martial spirit together with rhythmic often rapacious bursts of energetic forward momentum. Briskly taken, the Hurra Polka (Hoorah Polka) marked Vivace has an impishly playful quality. This contrasts with the Piosenka (Song), a captivatingly atmospheric Andante molto Sostenuto that builds in weight and sports a profusion of prominent woodwind contributions. The final movement Taniec (Dance) is an Allegro molto and has an introduction that reminded me of the brass fanfare in the central movement of Janáček’s Sinfonietta. This is varied and hauntingly melodic music and contains much to hold the interest. 

Composed in 1969/70 the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra was a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society with support from the Gulbenkian Foundation. It is dedicated to and intended for Mstislav Rostropovich. This highly original four movement score is played without a break. The Introduction is purposely inconspicuous containing considerable trite and repetitious wailing effects. Marked Episodes the second movement opens with a brass fanfare. A wealth of varied and fascinating ideas emerged and unravelled to hold my attention. The Cantilena features the lyrical cello over a progressively weighty and increasingly threatening accompaniment that concludes in a state of near pandemonium. The atmosphere of hostile diatribe continues for much of the Finale. Becoming increasingly isolated the cello yowls and squeals in resignation sometimes accompanied ny the orchestra, sometimes not.
Lutosławski sustained his interest in the cello and wrote his Grave for cello and piano in 1981. The next year Lutosławski orchestrated it as his Grave for cello and string orchestra giving it the subtitle ‘Metamorphoses’. Playing virtually non-stop the solo cello opens on a cold, bleak note of solitude and near despair. This strongly reminded me of the soundworld that Shostakovich often inhabits. At point 3:00 as the music quickens abruptly the mood lightens somewhat becoming more purposeful. Between points 4:27 and 5:15 the soloist plays in isolation before the work concludes with a light layer of strings.
Twenty years elapsed between Lutosławski’s Symphony No. 1 from 1947 and the completion of his Symphony No. 2 in 1965/67. A commission from the Norddeutscher Rundfunk of Hamburg, the symphony is divided into two movements. In 1968 it won first prize at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. Here Lutosławski employs an aleatoric approach. Its purpose is not always easy to fathom. It is not difficult to view all this as over-technical, rigorously controlled and too cerebral; nevertheless it remains well constructed and interesting. The first movement titled Hésitant contains an introduction followed by a series of six episodes played by small groups of instruments that unfurl in the same manner. Each episode is followed by a refrain from trios of double reed instruments. Titled Direct the music of the second movement can be divided into five overlapping segments although they can be hard to differentiate. The music slowly but constantly unfolds, maintaining tension. It increases in complexity and weight right through to the conclusion.
For those new to Lutosławski’s symphonies the Symphony No. 2 is probably not the best place to start. More convincing and rewarding is the stunning and masterly Symphony No. 3. Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra have already recorded and released this symphony among earlier volumes in this Chandos series. 

I played this latest Chandos hybrid SACD on my standard CD player. Recorded in 2011 at the Watford Colosseum the sound quality is immediate with a fine presence that is especially satisfying. Cellist Paul Watkins is an incisive and authoritative soloist yet remains as appropriately sensitive as one could wish. The splendidly prepared BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner play Lutosławski with remarkable dedication and expertise. The results are compelling.  

Michael Cookson

See also review by Dominy Clements

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