Lutoslawski: Orchestral Works Vol 1

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COMPOSERS: Lutoslawski
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Orchestral works, Vol. 1: Symphony No. 3; Chain 3; Concerto for Orchestra
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5082

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The BBC SO had a long association with Lutosawski, but made only a few commercial recordings with him as conductor. One of them was Chain 3, which they revisit here, with sound clearer than the 20-year-old DG version with the composer in charge, though there’s little to choose between them as performances.

The limited aleatoric techniques mean that no two readings are ever going to be identical, but, in the precisely notated sections, Edward Gardner makes the most of the taut rhythmic energy in the music. 

This energy characterises the Third Symphony, with its motif of four repeated notes, though the conductor also has the task of pacing the more freely written sections so that tension is maintained.

There’s a better sense of flow here than Esa-Pekka Salonen achieved in his Los Angeles recording, and a more scrupulous observation of dynamics and balance, reflected in the wide range of the recording, even if some of the high string writing doesn’t come across as cleanly.

The second half of the Symphony, where the lyrical and dramatic come together, has a certainty which almost matches Barenboim’s live Chicago version.

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It’s in the Concerto for Orchestra, the culminating work of Lutosawski’s first nationalist period, that this disc really comes up trumps, with a pulse that’s never allowed to flag, even in the more contemplative music. And all the colours of this showpiece are brightly painted, with a virtuosity which is never empty, but always has direction and purpose, and a sense of real enjoyment. Martin Cotton