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Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Orchestral Works Vol.8

Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Orchestra (1955)
Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Chamber Orchestra (1980)
Grave, Metamorphoses for Cello and String Orchestra (1981)
Chain 1 for 14 Performers (1983)
Two Children’s Songs for Voice and Chamber Orchestra (1948)
Six Children’s Songs for Voice and Instruments (1947)
Zbigniew Kaleta (clarinet), Arkadiusz Krupa (oboe), Nicolas Tulliez (harp)
Rafal Kwiatkowski (cello), Urszula Kryger (soprano)
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Rec. Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice, Jan and April 2001
NAXOS 8.555763 [57’34]


The superb Naxos Lutosławski series continues apace, with this new release coming in at No.8. As Richard Whitehouse’s excellent note points out, it’s tempting to see this particular volume as representing the lighter side of the composer’s creative nature. This would be true in parts and slightly simplistic in others, but there is no doubting the glittering inventiveness of the orchestral writing throughout, making even the more severe passages have a directness and appeal that is hard to resist.

The Dance Preludes are quite well known, odd ones featuring regularly as festival set pieces. In fact Lutosłlawski described these pieces as his ‘farewell to folklore’, and they marked something of a turning point in his outlook As the culmination of his folk-inspired period (a period that included such masterpieces as the Concerto for Orchestra) they are full of the ebullience and charm that we have come to expect of early Lutosławski. Their brevity adds to their charm, and it is a mark of the composer’s inventiveness that he can pack so much in to such miniatures.

The Double Concerto, commissioned by Paul Sacher and premiered by Heinz Holliger and his wife, Ursula, consciously uses more modernist devices. It experiments with the sonorities of the oboe, which is the chief protagonist here (the harp is more an obbligato part) and the accompanying chamber orchestra (consisting of two percussionists and twelve strings) is used with astonishing inventiveness and originality. There is certainly an element of playfulness between the instruments (the swirling tempest that opens the Rapsodico first movement is a good example) but serious questions are asked in much of this piece. The performance is superb, subtle, flexible and with altogether outstanding solo work from the featured players.

Similarly awkward questions are asked in the short Grave movement, and here we have a conscious influence, with a direct quotation of Golaud’s motif from Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. The sombre opening of that opera informs much of the work, but, unlike the opera, light does glimmer through at key points, giving a more optimistic final impression.

Chain 1 was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and heralded a series of exploratory pieces with the same title. The chamber ensemble of fourteen players is used here with a wonderful mixture of caprice and abandon, and the composer can be heard experimenting with as many sonorities as can be wrung out of conventional instruments. A lot of mood swings are packed into its 9 minutes, but overall the feeling is one of exuberance and rhythmic zest, beautifully captured here.

The collection of Children’s Songs that finish the disc make a truly delightful sequence. Most are to good-humoured nonsense verses (rather as Ligeti has done) but the whimsy and high spirits are sometimes offset by serious undertones, as in the marvellously named About Mr. Tralalinski. Here we can sense the dictates of Socialist Realism being transcended into a much more personal statement and, as with Shostakovich and others, the wit and irony tell quite another story.

This is an excellent disc, and the performances are inspired and dedicated. I’ve always liked recordings from this venue, and the sound quality here is well up to previous standards, far superior to the composer’s own EMI series from the 1970s. Don’t hesitate.

Tony Haywood

Colin Clarke has also listened to this disc

If there is one thing we should be grateful to Naxos for, it is their penchant for completism. Eight full volumes (so far) of Lutosławski orchestral works make for a treat indeed (notwithstanding the fact that the final eight tracks on this instalment are vocal, of course). Richard Whitehouse is our eloquent and informed guide in the booklet notes, which include all relevant information and more besides. Works are contextualised in the composer’s output as well as in terms of historical lineage and even, where relevant, political circumstances.

Although only nine minutes long, I have frequently thought of Chain I as the quintessential Lutosławski in its masterful use of controlled aleatorism married to an intensely lyrical streak. This Vyner commission for the London Sinfonietta shows just how skilful the composer was with keeping a firm grasp on harmonic fields whilst simultaneously giving his performers freedom. The conductor, Antoni Wit (who must at times feel more like a musical traffic warden), realises the shape of the piece well. Intensity does indeed increase, and the ‘unison’ climax, the result of much aggregation of material, really does sound properly climactic (wrongly realised the performance flops, as I have heard on occasion live). The instrumental solo flourishes (‘cadenzas’ implies a length they do not have) are expertly taken: perhaps the horn should come in for special mention for his/her eloquence.

The Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Chamber Orchestra (twelve strings and percussion) was commissioned by Paul Sacher for Heinz and Ursula Holliger and features much the same principles of controlled aleatorism. This is gestural music that works in sound masses. The oboist, Arkadiusz Krupa, is marvellous. He has a lovely, rounded tone and his trills are a delight. He is also very nimble (if not downright nippy) in the difficult lower register of his instrument. The two soloists complement each other well, although perhaps the oboe is put a shade too far forward in the sound picture. The ‘dolente’ middle movement enters a very personal space, very lyrical and intimate. Lutosławski seems to enjoy writing the harp’s cushioned accompaniment as much as he does the aching solo oboe lines. Again, Krupa’s tone is his strength here, smooth and luxuriant, expressive and sometimes even pained. There is a free-flow of invention here that brings the concept of ‘endless melody’ to mind. Around four minutes in there is a compositional call to stasis that is quite heart-stopping in its intensity - certainly when realised with the force of the present performance. The finale is pure delight. There is the distinct feeling of game-playing: and it is the composer who is being at his cheekiest.

Very differently coupled, the composer’s own recording with the original dedicatees should of course take pride of place and the present Naxos account should be seen as an adjunct. But it should be heard, nevertheless. (The composer’s own recording is on ‘The Essential Lutosławski’, Philips Duo 464 043-2, coupled with the Third Symphony and the Concerto for Orchestra.)

The Dance Preludes of nearly thirty years earlier represent Lutosławski at his most approachable. Post-Bartókian in their springy rhythms, cheeky moves and infectious joie de vivre (especially true of the first and last movements), mention should also be made of the beautiful Andantino where Kaleta’s liquid legato comes into its own. The 1981 Grave (subtitled ‘Metamorphoses for Cello and String Orchestra’) includes a reference to the initial forest scene of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (a work favoured by its dedicatee, the Polish musicologist Stefan Jarocinski). The opening is deeply sonorous, and Rafał Kwiatkowski’s tone is well caught in this recording. Here is a talented young cellist (born in 1978) – I hope to hear more of him.

The Two Children’s Songs take the listener back to 1948. Alas, there are neither texts nor translations for any of the vocal items (why not, Naxos?: copyright restrictions, perhaps?). Still, the innocence of the first, ‘The Belated Nightingale’ shines through, as does the jauntiness of ‘About Mr Tralalinski’ (all of the songs on this disc set texts by Julian Tuwim, 1894-1953). Dating from the preceding year, the Six Children’s Songs inhabit a wider emotional frame. The second, ‘The Four Seasons’, is extremely sad, seemingly full of regret (one has to guess at the subject, of course); similarly the third, entitled simply ‘Kitten’. There is much to delight in this set, too, especially the final, brief ‘The Bird’s Gossips’. The use of vocal items is a very effective way to end the disc, even if there is something of the feeling of the encore about it all after the earlier meat. Urszula Kryger is an expert, unaffected exponent.

This is a very, very rewarding disc. Repeated playing has not only reinforced but has actually strengthened my admiration for this composer.

Colin Clarke

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