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Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Opera Omnia – Volume 6
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1987-88) [25:27]
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1969-70) [25:58]
Fanfare for CUBE for brass quintet (1986) [0:24]
Fanfare for University of Louisville (1986) [1:18]
Prelude for Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1989) [2:14]
Variations on a Theme by Paganini (1941) [5:04]
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
Tomasz Daroch (cello)
NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Jacek Kaspszyk
Court-circuit/Jean Deroyer (CUBE)
Lutosławski Piano Duo: Emilia Sitarz & Bartlomiej Wasik (variations)
rec. 2013, Philharmonic Concert Hall, Wroclaw; IRCAM, Paris, (CUBE).
CD ACCORD ACD198-2 [61:08]

The quality of this ‘Opera omnia’ series has been proven in past releases (review ~ review), and this sixth volume has been around since 2014. The main works here have been recorded numerous times elsewhere so this soon becomes a comparative review, but there are plenty of interesting extras to make this an even more enticing prospect even if you are familiar with the concertos.

The powerfully emotive Piano Concerto receives a forceful and convincing account from the musicians here. Garrick Ohlsson is one of the giants amongst today’s circuit of piano soloists, and he performs this demanding part as naturally as water flowing through a mountain stream. The orchestra also delivers with passion and skilled conviction, and in its own right this is a recording that would seem to challenge all comers.

One of the best alternatives has to be from the Chandos Lutosławski series with Edward Gardner, in this case with soloist Louis Lortie (review). This recording has a more detailed approach to capturing the orchestra, and as a result the little touches such as those cello glissandi that track the piano part near the beginning of the Presto second movement come across more clearly. Where Kaspszyk wins over Gardner is in the way he somehow communicates the emotional intensity of the work with more warmth. There is a Bartók-like passage around 2:15 minutes in that gives me a real chill in this Wroclaw recording, where with the BBC it is hugely impressive but less emotive. These are subjective responses, but give an idea as to how such comparisons can never be entirely clear-cut. I’ll keep Gardner/Lortie for score reading and testing speakers, but have Kaspszyk/Ohlsson in reserve for a more immersive narrative on this great work.

While we’re dealing with piano works, the Paganini Variations appears here in its piano duo rather than piano and orchestra version, superbly performed by the Lutosławski piano duo. Their irrepressible rhythmic power and sparkle is stunning, and at 40 seconds faster than Martha Argerich and Giorgia Tomassi (review) at the very least as impressive and, to my mind more musical, stamping less heavily on the downbeats as Argerich/Tomassi.

The Cello Concerto is nearly two decades earlier than the Piano Concerto, and occupies different musical territory. With the Chandos alternative on volume three or four (depending where you look - review) of their series I was struck by the theatricality of the piece, the opening a ‘prologue to an opera without words’, and making for ‘compelling and at times truly shocking listening.’ With the more generalised perspective in this Wroclaw recording the shock effect is less immediate, the more remotely placed cello a more accurate concert experience but the drama in the music watered-down and less involving. The Chandos recording also has the advantage of separate track numbers for each section of the concerto, and it is here for instance that the chills are more in evidence for instance in the Cantelina section, here at around 13:00 into the work. The rising intensity in the strings is rather flaccid when compared to Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which holds down a kind of repressed explosiveness even when at pianissimo.

The additional works in this programme are occasional works which are well performed, the Fanfare for CUBE rather dispensable, but softening us up for the surprisingly symphonic and dramatic Fanfare for the University of Louisville, with typical Lutosławski fingerprints very much in evidence. The outrider is the Prelude for Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which has a 13th century song, ‘Worles blis ne last no throwe’ interwoven into a nocturne like orchestration but is abruptly concluded with a rather banal cadence.

All in all this is a fascinating and well produced programme of Lutaslowski’s concertos with extras. If you collect this Opera omnia series then it will by no means be a disappointment, but in the ever-evolving world of the record catalogues then it is inevitable that the landscape will become more competitive. Edward Gardner’s Chandos collection of Lutosławski’s works created a new benchmark and in general would be my reference for these works, though there always has to be a place for recordings made by Lutosławski’s own countrymen.

Dominy Clements



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