LUTOSŁAWSKI Symphonies 1 -4
Part new release, part reissue, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lutosπawski symphony cycle provides a refined but often exciting take on an impressive corpus of work. The rowdy opening Fanfare (1993) inspires confidence from the start, effortless brass-playing that in context would surely have brought the house down. That’s one of the two ‘first release’ December 2012 recordings programmed. The other is of the largely neo-classical First Symphony (1941 47), a work born of tragedy (the first movement was penned while Lutosπawski was in hiding during the last wartime months in Warsaw) but that generates a certain sense of optimism, except for the more sombre episodes in the Poco adagio, which tell a far darker tale. The scherzo runs hotfoot on pizzicato basses, while the finale returns us to the busyness of the first movement. Salonen is typically attentive to the work’s multifaceted character while holding its arguments on a tight rein.
Turn to the Second Symphony (1966 67) and you enter an entirely different world, at once searching and frenzied, the second movement raging among swathes of aleatoric chaos, though again Salonen’s evident love of order manages to lend shape to the music’s shaggy contours. The Third Symphony (1972 83) abandons the excessive harshness of the Second without compromising originality, and it explores an unusually wide range of sonorities. The Third is an internally energised, multi-perspectival piece full of swiftly shifting shades and potentially expressive turns of phrase, and Salonen’s performance is wonderfully precise (try the sharply etched quasi-fugal string-writing from 10'57"). Rival versions of the Third include Antoni Wit with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner (part of his excellent complete cycle), Lutosπawski himself with the Berlin Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim with the Chicago Symphony (for whom the work was written). Both of the latter versions are coupled with Lutosπawski’s best-known orchestral work, his Concerto for Orchestra.
The Fourth Symphony (1993) is darker, more concise and quite possibly (though here I’m daring to risk a lead on posterity) the greatest work in the cycle. I’ve a less pristine but deeply moving performance to hand that Lutosπawski himself gave as part of his last concert in Warsaw (KOS CDWJ001) but Gardner is also extremely compelling. In fact, his cycle is in its way as good as Salonen’s, though if the symphonies are all you need, then Sony’s two-CD format will obviously prove tempting. The performances are utterly convincing and the clear, impressively ‘present’ sound is ideally suited to them, though involving three separate acoustical settings.