SZYMANOWSKI Symphony No 2 LUTOSŁAWSKI Livre pour orchestre
A good deal of the impact of this excellent release is due to the splendidly accommodating acoustic of the new NOSPR Concert Hall in Katowice, which on this evidence ought to provide a gold standard for anyone contemplating a hall of their own, be it newly built or newly renovated.
Szymanowski’s radiantly effusive Second Symphony, a sort of Scriabin-Strauss synthesis with masses of seething counterpoint and very much a product of the fin de siècle, is the perfect acoustical test piece, what with its richly laced textures and extravagant climaxes, most particularly at roughly the 10 minute point in the first movement, where Alexander Liebreich inspires a cataclysm, the bass drum a virtual peal of thunder; on Valery Gergiev’s LSO recording, although the same episode is impressive (the movement timing is identical), the effect is tame by comparison. The very opening of the symphony resembles a violin concerto. Producer Paul Smaczny makes sure that although the soloist is cosily present, the woodwind backdrop is admirably clear, whereas the LSO alternative, although equally plush, isn’t quite so meticulously balanced, as much due to Liebreich I’d imagine as to Smaczny.
Gergiev usefully gives us Szymanowski’s First as a coupling whereas Liebreich offers two works by Lutosławski: Livre pour orchestre (1968), a concerto for orchestra in all but name, the first two movements – slithering string glissandos and burbling winds – more than enough to get you hooked. The solemn and atmospheric Funeral Music in memory of Bartók dates from 10 years earlier and in this context delivers a richer string profile and a less claustrophobic recorded balance than on Witold Rowicki’s justly famous Warsaw National Philharmonic recording, although the performance is similarly intense. Altogether a superb programme.