LUTOSŁAWSKI Piano Concerto. Symphony No 2
Commissioned by the 1988 Salzburg Festival and first performed by dedicatee Krystian Zimerman, Lutosawski’s Piano Concerto serves up a wealth of a succinct, characteristically deft and urgently communicative invention in four linked movements, while consciously harking back to figures from the past (in this instance Bartók, Szymanowski and Prokofiev). Zimerman’s own pioneering recording with the BBC SO conducted by the composer deservedly survives in the catalogue, so it’s a real and unexpected treat to be able to welcome a second version from the concerto’s most stylish and experienced exponent. Partnered with exemplary polish and unstinting dedication by Rattle and the Berliners, Zimerman is at his patrician, dazzlingly articulate best, locating even greater reserves of concentration and rapt hush than previously in the slow movement (where his sublime touch and gorgeous cantabile tone remain things of wonder), while the thrusting momentum and thrilling sense of purpose he and Rattle bring to the chaconne finale make for a giddy culmination. Admittedly, you do occasionally have to contend with some audible humming from the soloist (it didn’t worry me one bit, I have to say), and orchestral detail isn’t always as sharply delineated as it is on, say, Louis Lortie’s admirable account with Edward Gardner and the BBC SO, but don’t be deterred from investigating what is a marvellously invigorating and fabulously accomplished reading.
The Second Symphony is a two-movement edifice from 1966-67 couched in a bracingly exploratory idiom which makes excitingly resourceful use of aleatory devices. It’s an enigmatic, challenging beast that teems with colouristic flair, astonishingly intricate textures and spooky, otherworldly sonorities (such as the ethereal writing for divided double basses towards the close). Suffice to say, it’s delivered with riveting technical mastery here, and, to my ears at any rate, Rattle paces its fretful progress with an even keener sense of direction and unerring proportion than do either Salonen or Gardner. A very fine issue.