Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra; Three Poems by Henri Michaux; Mi-Parti; Overture for Strings

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COMPOSERS: Lutoslawski
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Concerto for Orchestra; Three Poems by Henri Michaux; Mi-Parti; Overture for Strings
PERFORMER: Camerata Silesia/Anna Szostak, Polish National RSO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553779
The presence of a whole series of CDs devoted to the works of Witold Lutoslawski, who died only four years ago, in the popular Naxos catalogue must surely attest to the inroads which his music, an inspired fusion of avant-garde sonorities and a neo-classic sensibility, has made among non-specialist listeners. Much of it is still available, from EMI and DG, in authoritative accounts by the composer himself (though it’s a pity that the two marvellous discs he made for Philips in the late Eighties are not currently available), and a representative selection, under various batons, was issued by Polskie Nagrania in the late Eighties (though that, too, seems to have gone the way of all flesh). Even so, his music deserves wider exposure on CD than presently obtains; so that, for all its faults, the budget-priced Naxos discs can only be welcomed.

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Vol.5 contains two masterpieces and two also-rans. Of the latter, the Three Poems by Henri Michaux, with its screaming, shouting chorus, sounds something of a period piece now, and there’s little to choose between this account and the composer’s own on EMI; while the Overture for Strings, an early Bartókian effort, is not otherwise available, so that this version is by default self-recommending.

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For a coupling of the Concerto for Orchestra and Mi-Parti, however, Wit faces strong competition from Yan Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos, a disc that also includes a memorable account of the Funeral Music in memory of Béla Bartók. For all the experience and authority that Wit and the Polish National RSO bring to these two scores, they are surpassed by the more polished playing of the BBC Philharmonic and the flexibility with which Tortelier shapes both works, the sensuous Mi-Parti in particular. Antony Bye