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Lutoslawski: Opera Omnia, Vol. 6

Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Cd Accord   Catalog #: 198   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Witold Lutoslawski
Performer:  Emilia SitarzBartlomiej WasikGarrick OhlssonTomasz Daroch
Conductor:  Jacek KaspszykJean Deroyer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lutoslawski Piano DuoNFM Wroclaw PhilharmonicCourt-Circuit Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The current release, focusing on the concertante works of the Polish Modernist composer Witold Lutoslawski, is the sixth volume of a projected cycle of his complete works. Though already established as one of the most important composers of his generation, even of the 20th century, it is surprising how few recordings exist of some of his better works. Luckily the piano concerto, originally written for Krystian Zimerman, and the cello concerto, composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, are two works which, if not part of the mainstay of most every pianist and cellist, respectively, have been served relatively well on recordings. The piano concerto has been taken up by a number of notable names, including Lars Vogt, Leif Ove Andsnes, Paul Read more Crossley, Louis Lortie, and Krystian Zimerman, in addition to Garrick Ohlsson on the current recording; the cello concerto has equally been well served by the likes of Pieter Wispelwey, Mstislav Rostropovich, Paul Watkins, Heinrich Schiff (whose performance of his work the composer actually preferred to Rostropovich’s account), and, on the current disc, Tomasz Daroch.

Though Lutoslawski’s language is undoubtedly Modernist, there is always a sense of lyricism, of instrumental color, and of orchestral dialogue being somewhere in the music’s makeup—even if in the last case, in many examples on the current release as the booklet notes explain, that has more to do with “conflict rather than cooperation or even competition.” The latest work here, the piano concerto, was composed in the late 1980s, shortly before the composer’s death in 1994; oddly, it is a bit more conservative in sound, instrumental technique and structure than the earlier—by two decades!—cello concerto, written in the late 1960s. Lutoslawski explains that “aleatoric” or “chance” principles are often in play in his music, but explains that his definition is a bit different than what one might expect. It differs in his music as there is no improvisation to be found anywhere in his scores—every pitch is notated in the music; there are, however, “ad libitum” sections in the scores, in which all the performers sort of conduct themselves, without reference to the other members of the orchestra. This produces what the composer calls “‘flexible’ textures of rich, capricious rhythms, impossible to achieve in any other way.”

And what fine results these forces produce here! Garrick Ohlsson, always a charismatic artist, holds up well against not only these orchestral forces, ever asserting himself against the at-times oppressive orchestral walls of sound laid before him, but also in comparison to other first-rate soloists, includng my two favorites: the dedicatee, Krystian Zimerman, accompanied by the BBC Symphony directed by the composer; and Paul Crossley, who performs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen. The other major work here, the aforementioned cello concerto, also receives a very fine performance. The soloist, Tomasz Daroch, does a fine job of understanding his role. He is never overly extravagant in playing his part; rather, he at times seems distant, even aloof, but that all in the best senses of the word, capturing the role of the protagonist in Lutoslawski’s musical narrative. As the story goes: The composer was so interested in creating a solo part which could stand up to the orchestra, a real soloistic endeavor, which used an abundance of quarter-tones, that he needed to also modify the very fingerings which had become common practice for all cellists. He was told by Rostropovich not to concern himself with technical details, as the cellist would later solve many of them himself, though the cellist later gave a wry smile when he told the composer that it had been well over 30 years since he last had to think about fingerings in this way!

The filler works on this disc are mostly comprised of fanfares written for institutions. They are all fine works—my favorite being the Fanfare for CUBE , performed by brass quintet, and lasting all of 20 seconds in duration. It is appropriately ceremonial, yet in its numerous quirky aspects makes one smile at its seeming perversions: The composer never loses his personality, no matter the piece or the duration! The final work, however, is one of the composer’s best-known compositions—his Variations on a Theme of Paganini for two pianos. And hardly could it have received a better performance than the one here: Not only is the Lutoslawski Piano Duo—a more aptly-named ensemble could not have been chosen, especially for this particular release!—technically secure, but more importantly it captures the atmosphere of the Warsaw café, with its bustling activity and its smoke-filled hallways, in which the piece was first performed by the composer and Andrzej Panufnik. Even with its highly virtuosic, even motoric instances, its technically virtuosic passages are always filled with a sense of elegance.

So if you’ve been collecting this series thus far, then please continue to do so; if not, then this would be a great release to get one started. This is the music of our day, and there is hardly a music which works on so many different levels at the same time as well as does this music—it is lyrical, it is tempestuous, it is ironic, and it will put a smile on your face. What more could one ask?

FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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Works on This Recording

Variations on a theme of Paganini for 2 Pianos by Witold Lutoslawski
Performer:  Emilia Sitarz (Piano), Bartlomiej Wasik (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lutoslawski Piano Duo
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; Poland 
Prelude for GSMD by Witold Lutoslawski
Conductor:  Jacek Kaspszyk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; Poland 
Fanfare for Louisville by Witold Lutoslawski
Conductor:  Jacek Kaspszyk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; Poland 
Fanfare for CUBE by Witold Lutoslawski
Conductor:  Jean Deroyer
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Court-Circuit Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987; Poland 
Concerto for Piano "For Krystian Zimerman" by Witold Lutoslawski
Performer:  Garrick Ohlsson (Piano)
Conductor:  Jacek Kaspszyk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1988; Poland 
Concerto for Cello by Witold Lutoslawski
Performer:  Tomasz Daroch (Cello)
Conductor:  Jacek Kaspszyk
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1970; Poland 

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