Lutoslawski: Grave; Overture; Double Concerto for Oboe & Harp; Musique funèbre; Dance Preludes

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Lutoslawski
LABELS: Arion
WORKS: Grave; Overture; Double Concerto for Oboe & Harp; Musique funèbre; Dance Preludes
PERFORMER: Michel Lethiec (clarinet), Isabelle Moretti (harp), François Leleux (oboe), François Salque (cello); Sinfonietta Cracovia/Robert Kabara
CATALOGUE NO: ARN 68617
The modernist movement in post-war Poland was sometimes labelled – only half-humorously – as ‘the avant-garde with the human face’. And Witold Lutos­awski was always the pre-eminent musical figure. Where so much Sixties experimentalism sounds dry, abstract, pretentious or just plain anti-human today, Lutos­awski’s explorations revealed, and go on revealing, new worlds of imagination. From the early Funeral Music (composed in memory of Bartók, and at times sounding rather like him) to the much later Double Concerto, it’s the weirdly beautiful atmosphere that lingers in the memory. Techniques that on paper seem dauntingly cerebral turn out in performance to be more like magic spells, opening doors into dream territory. Most of the music recorded here comes from the composer’s early years, when he was still emerging from the shadow of Bartók. But even in the folksy Dance Preludes – composed under the shadow of Soviet aesthetics – one can make out Lutos­awski’s authentic voice, along with the brilliant, fastidious craftsmanship.

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Sinfonietta Cracovia’s very laudable performances are slightly handicapped by dullish, less than perfectly balanced recordings (I could only just make out the xylophone in the Double Concerto). But the playing has plenty of fire and quirky poetry. By the way, ignore what it says on the cover: Funeral Music is recorded here in its authentic version for strings – no clarinet. Stephen Johnson