COMPOSERS: Lutosławski
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Lutosławski
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Paganini Variations; Piano Concerto; Symphonic Variations
PERFORMER: Louis Lortie (piano); BBC SO/Edward Gardner


The Symphonic Variations from 1938 already show the young Lutosławski’s expertise in colourful orchestration. Here Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony, backed up by glittering sound, do this work proud, from the folk-like opening flute theme, through its varied treatments. Better known are the Paganini Variations, usually heard in their original two-piano version, rather than this much later concertante arrangement. Louis Lortie is an ideal soloist, with the clarity of touch familiar from his recordings of the French repertoire, but also the power for the bigger gestures. In some of the more syncopated moments, ensemble could have been even tighter, but the sound-world is absolutely right.
The Piano Concerto and Symphony come from Lutosławski’s final years, when his musical language had in some ways returned to a more traditional stance, although his avant-garde preoccupations weren’t completely forgotten.
Lortie is up against the recording by Krystian Zimerman, conducted by the composer himself, and yields nothing to him in the virtuoso passages, while being more expansive in the slow third movement. Again, Gardner leads a detailed, musically sure-paced orchestral contribution. And sure pacing is the essence of the opening of the Symphony, with elegiac melodies unwinding over repeated, march-like chords. The contrast between this and the aleatoric flurries shows a seasoned composer at work; as the work progresses through scherzo and
lyrical slow movement, Gardner and the orchestra, with not a weak link in the important solos, give a performance of riveting concentration.
Martin Cotton