Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913-1994)
Fanfare for Los Angeles Philharmonic (1993) [0:55]
Symphony No. 1 (1941-47) [24:39]
Symphony No. 2 (1966/67) [27:52]
Symphony No. 3 (1972-83) [31:27]
Symphony No. 4 (1993) [21:00]
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
rec. CD1, 30 November – 2 December 2012, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles (Fanfare, Symphony No. 1), 14, 17-18 November 1994, TODD-AO Scoring Studio (Symphony No. 2) and 29-30 November and 2 December 1985 (Symphony No. 3) and 15 November 1993 (Symphony No. 4), Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
SONY CLASSICAL 88765440832 [53:30 + 52:37]
This celebration of Lutoslawski’s centennial is a mixture of new recordings, the recently taped Fanfare for Los Angeles Philharmonic and Symphony No. 1 joining classic versions of the Symphonies 3 and 4 (see review), and the previously released Symphony No. 2 which came coupled with the Piano Concerto and other works.
The Fanfare is a joyously riotous affair which acts as a perfect opener for Lutoslawski’s lively Allegro giusto opening to the Symphony No. 1. This new recording is a vibrantly captured event, which just so happens to have appeared at the same time as Edward Gardner’s Chandos disc CHSA 5108, a volume of his excellent Polish music series. Both performances come in with almost exactly identical total timings, though Gardner is more expansive in the Poco adagio second movement, gaining back the extra minute or so with a more compact finale. Salonen is more exciting in the first movement, though the microscopic sense of detail is also a treat in the Chandos SACD recording. Gardner gets a bit more of that Bartók atmosphere in opening of the slow movement with more convincing string colour. I find his greater spaciousness more moving, but Salonen gets impassioned playing from his Los Angeles forces and doesn’t disappoint. I like his sensitivity to the Stravinsky brushstrokes in the Allegretto misterioso. The final movement is a real roller-coaster ride of spectacular orchestration and rhythmic drive.
In the end, if it’s a toss-up between two versions of the Symphony No. 1 I would probably take Gardner, but the decision is a close-run thing, and if you want all of the Lutoslawski symphonies in one place this new Sony two-disc set is a handy place to be.
With the other symphonies here being re-releases you might want to check your shelves to make sure you are not duplicating, but these are all great performances and well worth having. The Symphony No. 2 is a little more distant sounding than the First Symphony, not dissimilar in effect to Antoni Wit’s highly effective recording on Naxos 8.553169. With its more experimental textures this is a piece that thrives on atmosphere and sonority, and while still very good indeed Salonen doesn’t quite achieve the luminosity and sense of close-up physical drama and contrast that we have in some later recordings, Edward Gardner included (see review).
Both of these versions of the Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 4 have been around for a while now, and while in their time they were a leading reference for these works they now sound a little dry and muffled when compared to some more recent recordings. What we do have here are performances which we know had the approval of the composer, and Esa-Pekka Salonen’s warm relationship with Lutoslawski is evidenced by ‘that’ handshake photo in the booklet.
Having a listen to another disc with both symphonies, that with Miroslaw Jacek Blaszczyk conducting on the DUX label, DUX 0506, shows how the Symphony No. 3 has firmed up its muscles and acquired a greater sense of direction in more recent years. Salonen’s still very good recording does now sound relatively static and episodic by comparison. The more compact span and greater immediacy of music logic in the Symphony No. 4 is less problematic, and Salonen’s sense of shape and atmosphere are refined and timeless. The playing in all of these works is largely excellent, though the wind and brass solos stand out as particularly strong in this last piece.
I can understand Sony wanting to keep the neatness of a ‘complete symphonies’ set, but it’s a shame disc 2 leaves out Les Espacesdu sommeil as it had on the original, giving us less rather than more. Looking at disc timings we could have had some further additions from Sony’s archive on CD 1, and if they wanted to compete with EMI’s compilation with the composer conducting (see review) it might have been more fun to have a 3 CD set with a wider range of works. Not entirely unscathed by the passing of time, these recordings are however a worthy celebration of Lutoslawski’s centennial year, now representing a superb budget introduction to the complete symphonies of one of the 20th century’s great names. All critical remarks are those of small degree, with only the knowledge of more recent recordings taking away some of the competitive edge of Salonen’s performances as market leaders. I would still favour these recordings in their own right, and hope that in this form they will introduce more listeners to some remarkable music.
Once reference recordings - now a budget introduction to a true 20th century great.
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