* WITOLD LUTOSLAWSKI [Orchestral Works II]: Symphonic Variations; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Variations on a Theme of Paganini (for solo piano & orch.); Symphony No. 4 – Louis Lortie, p./ BBC Sym. Orch./ Edward Gardner – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5098, 67:25 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Lutoslawski stands among Poland’s other great composers of the 20th-century—Penderecki, Panufnik, Weinberg and Bacewicz. This series with the BBC Symphony Orchestra concentrates here on four of the composer’s important orchestral works. Two are from the late 30s and early 40s and two from the late 70s and 80s. In between Lutoslawski was writing in a more avant-garde atonal style, but these four works—though not exactly brimming with melodies—are in a post-Romantic style. The youthful short Symphonic Variations is influenced by Stravinsky, and his 1978 Variations on a Theme of Paganini hews closer to Paganini’s original tune than almost any of the many variations by others. He arranged his original version for two pianos for one piano and orchestra at the request of pianist Felicja Blumental.
The Piano Concerto and Fourth Symphony came after Lutoslawski had created a new more melodic and lyrical musical style. According to the notes the Concerto alludes to the idioms of 19th-century composers such as Brahms, Chopin and Liszt, as well later styles such as Rachmaninoff, but I couldn’t detect that in the music. The Concerto does have many interesting contrasts and unexpected turns to it, and shows the composer’s practice of having rather lightweight material in the first movements, with the weight of the work being in its final movement. The Symphony, in which the movements delve into one another without pause, has five of them—though the last one only lasts 53 seconds. The whole seems to have a basic confident lyricism. Towards the end of the penultimate movement its first theme is recalled.
This volume might catch the ears of many who are under the impression that Lutoslawski is a bit too modern for their tastes. The playing is superb thruout and the hi-res surround sonic quality makes one wish that Chandos released as frequent SACDs today as they once did.
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