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Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Complete Piano Music
Piano sonata (Paul Sacher Foundation manuscript 1934, ed. Koukl)* [30:13]
Bukoliki (Bucolics) (1952) [6:08]
Trzy utwory dla młodieży (Three pieces for the young) (1953) [4:23]
Pocałunek roksany (A kiss of Roxane)** [1:25]
Zimowy walc (Winter waltz) (1954)** [2:52]
Melodie ludowe (Folk melodies) (1945) [12:19]
Dwie etiudy (Two études) (1940-41) [5:11]
Inwencja (Invention) (undated Paul Sacher Foundation manuscript)** [1:14]
Inwencja (Invention) (1968) [0:59]
Zasłyszana melodyjka (An overheard melody) (for piano 4 hands) (1957) [2:04]
Miniatura (Miniature) (original version for piano 4 hands, Paul Sacher Foundation manuscript) (1953) [2:09]
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
Virginia Rossetti (piano – 4 hands)
rec. 2017-18, Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland.
*World première recording (of the autograph score)
** World première recording
GRAND PIANO GP768 [69:45]

These piano works, the most substantial of which was written in Lutosławski’s youth, are a complete and delightful surprise to those of us who are more familiar with his symphonic and instrumental works. As the accompanying booklet points out, his apprentice works show influence from both Ravel and Szymanowski with “the post Debussyan elegance” of the former and the “lush effusiveness” of the latter.

Following the meticulous research which we have come to expect from Giorgio Koukl, we are able to hear for the very first time Lutosławski’s three movement piano sonata the way the composer intended with the original fingering and the restoration of much that was missing from incorrectly printed versions.  What is revealed is the most lush and gorgeous score which satisfies on every level. While it is a truly mature work for a twenty-one-year-old, it should be pointed out that he was improvising aged six and wrote his first preludes at the age of nine so he could be said to have been seasoned by the time he wrote the sonata.  Later, despite playing it for audiences occasionally, he tended to be critical of its overly romantic nature. Composers are often critical this way, as if what is produced during the learning process has less value than later works when they have established the style they feel best expresses themselves; however, listeners are much more forgiving - or one could justifiably say they are often more discerning. This sonata is certainly an example of such a view and we should be thankful he didn’t destroy it; regrettably, such was the fate of far too many works their creators wished to disown.

How many times do you hear a composer come up with a really good tune that they carelessly allow to be merely a passing phase and which you only wish they had developed more?  You will not find that happen here for Lutosławski develops the main theme in the first movement throughout its length, making the most of its strong essence. In fact, he could not be accused of such an attitude at any time in this work, for every tune is made the most of, leaving the listener feeling wholly gratified.  I cannot emphasise how much I enjoyed this sonata.

Moving on to the short works, the first of which is Bucolics from 1952, we are reminded again what an impressive facility Lutosławski had for a good tune, for every piece is imbued with ravishing themes that he treated with an innate sense of structure.  In common with untold numbers of composers, Lutosławski naturally mines the rich seam of folk songs and tunes which
Poland is replete with and he knew how to make best use of this abundant resource.  His Three pieces for the young are bright, delightful pieces, the first of which the youngster playing it would have to have a good deal of talent to bring off successfully.  A kiss of Roxanne, the first of three world première recordings, may be brief but what an impact Lutosławski manages to cram into less than a minute and a half!  A winter waltz is beautiful, yet has a sad tinge of nostalgia within its notes.

Folk melodies consist of twelve tiny pieces yet each is an absolute delight. Two études from 1940-41 are the only works on the disc that could be said to be in any way ‘modern’ or ‘experimental’ and they have you wanting more after their five minutes is over, such is their power to impress. Two Invention(s) follow, one an undated example from the Paul Sacher Foundation manuscript, the second from 1968, both of which are so brief the listener is left wishing they were longer.

The last two works are Lutosławski’s only examples of his writing for four hands, each lasting a fraction over two minutes but making their presence felt in no uncertain terms.  The first is a jaunty tune full of implied fun and mischief, the second is on a more serious note but still with the composer’s characteristic flair for a good tune which he works on to create a lasting impression.

This disc was a revelation to me, whose knowledge of Lutosławski was confined to weightier works in which there was scarcely any suggestion of lightweight content.  As such, I thoroughly enjoyed it and know I will return to listen to it many times in the future. As always, Giorgio Kukl treats everything with an intelligent and scholarly approach because he is not a pianist who simply plays what he is contracted to do but is more often than not the impetus that seeks out composers and works he feels will find an interest with the listening public, so never leaves you with the feeling that he just going through the motions; rather, he has a genuine interest and desire to present the composer in the best possible light.  In the last two works for four hands, he is joined by Virginia Rossetti, who is clearly up to playing alongside such a well-known and respected pianist as Koukl, so hopefully we will see her name on a disc in future where she will be the pianist of choice in repertoire she enjoys.
 
Steve Arloff

 

 



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