Lutoslawski Orchestral Works, Vol. 3

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COMPOSERS: Lutoslawski
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Lutoslawski Orchestral Works, Vol. 3
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Little Suite (Mala Suite); Cello Concerto; Grave (Metamorphoses for cello and strings)
PERFORMER: Paul Watkins (cello); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA5106

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On this latest Lutosawski release from Chandos there is a welcome disconnect between the first work and the rest of the programme. It opens with the Little Suite (1950), which predates even Lutosawski’s popular Concerto for Orchestra and shows the young composer already grappling with – and slightly circumventing – the demands of socialist realism. Based on folk melodies collected in south-east Poland, its bracing colours receive a performance of fresh vitality here from the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner.

This disc then fast forwards one and a half decades to the Second Symphony, by which time Lutosawski had become a leading figure of the avant-garde and was writing feverish, densely textured music. Gardner’s control of the work, not least its eventual disintegration, is highly compelling.

Recorded many times since it was premiered by Rostropovich in 1970, the Cello Concerto receives a superbly concentrated performance here from the soloist Paul Watkins. The 16 repeated, open-string D naturals (marked ‘indifferente’) that launch the work function as a reference point and a heartbeat. A shorter and searing summation of Lutosawski’s style can be heard in his Grave (1982) for cello and orchestra, which forms a fitting counterbalance to everything else on this disc.

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John Allison