Lutoslawski: Preludes and Fugue; Overture; Musique funèbre; Grave; Five Folk Melodies

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COMPOSERS: Lutoslawski
LABELS: Forlane
WORKS: Preludes and Fugue; Overture; Musique funèbre; Grave; Five Folk Melodies
PERFORMER: David Cohen (cello); Walloon Royal CO/Jean-Paul Dessy
Preludes and Fugue for 13 strings is a masterpiece. There may be hundreds of works composed in the late Sixties/early Seventies that resemble it superficially. Lutoslawski’s favourite devices – dissonant cluster harmonies, dense heterophony (one melodic line blurred by being played at different speeds), teeming ‘aleatoric’ textures in which each player repeats figures ad lib to his or her own beat – can be found in numberless contemporary scores, most of them mercifully long forgotten. But if Lutoslawski wasn’t the first, he was certainly one of the finest. Preludes and Fugue is sustained by tremendous lyrical energy and a vein of sombre fantasy which, in a performance of this quality, can be mesmerising. Funeral Music, written in memory of Bartók, is impressive, too – surprising that a work constructed on such bare geometrical lines can be so intensely expressive. Again, credit to the players for bringing the music so vividly to life. From these works to Five Folk Melodies is a huge step: here is a fine composer struggling – like his near-contemporary Shostakovich – to conform to the dictates of ‘socialist realism’; he succeeds, but only by muffling his true creative voice. It’s beautifully played, though, and, like the other pieces, sympathetically recorded. Stephen Johnson