Symphonies Nos 2 & 3
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE 1332-5 61.40 mins
Eagerly awaited ever since Ondine’s previous Lutosławski release from the same Finnish team, this magnificent new recording completes a strong symphonic portrait of the Polish modernist master. If it doesn’t offer quite the same wide-ranging view of the composer that one inevitably gets from the First and Fourth Symphonies plus Jeux vénitiens, this is a potent and logical pairing of works both written on a two-movement scheme.
The Third Symphony comes first here in a coruscating performance. Hannu Lintu conducts with lucidity and rigour in a work exploring Beethovenian notions of tension and release. His musicians respond with brilliant, punchy playing but are also capable of dazzling refinement, something vital in a work of such intricate translucence. Though the Third Symphony was composed at a time (1981-83) of great flux in Poland, indeed the period of martial law, somehow it rises above non-artistic concerns and Lintu makes a great case for its abstract richness.
Next to the Third, viewed by many as Lutosławski’s masterpiece, the less frequently heard Second is a symphony that breaks with symphonic tradition. Written in 1966-67, when not even the height of the Cold War could slow Lutosławski’s growing international reputation, it is especially notable for the sustained, searing scream of its second movement, a complex sound-mass based largely on aleatoric gestures. Lintu makes sense of its elusive qualities without, as it were, negating its very elusiveness. Altogether, Lintu’s Lutosławski cycle sets a new standard. John Allison