American Record Guide
, December 2006
Here's a delightful assortment of early vocal music by Witold Lutoslawski, mostly written before Poland's postwar communist regime imposed its restrictive cultural policies. The composer assembled his 20 Polish Christmas Carols in 1946, drawing his raw material from 19th Century collections encompassing both traditional domestic material and a few familiar pan-European carols. They were originally written for solo voice and piano, but Lutoslawski returned to them nearly 40 years later, re-scoring them for soprano, female choir, and orchestra. Most of them were first heard in London.
The music is comfortably melodic and replete with all the requisite moods and sentiments of the season, from quiet mystery to jolly jubilation. Imaginative orchestrations sup pan the rather simple solo and choral parts. The choir sings in unison, delivering melodies as often as the soloist. Most of the carols are unfamiliar, though I caught three or four items that I know-mostly from the French tradition. Soloist Olga Pasichnyk offers charming and sensitive work, along with the sweet-sounding ladies of the Polish Radio Choir.
The filler pieces have nothing to do with Christmas. Lacrimosa- for soprano, mixed choir, and orchestra-is one of Lutoslawski's very first works, part of a Requiem sequence that he wrote in 1937. Full of hallmark Polish dolefulness, it's a very attractive work that hints of things to come from him. The Five Songs for female voice and 30 solo instruments are more like the Lutoslawski we know. Setting children's verses, they are strikingly modern. yet instantly accessible. Alto Jadwiga Rappe, whom I've praised before in these pages sounds wonderful. Here and elsewhere, Antoni Wit draws sparkling and committed playing from his orchestra.
Naxos offers its customary excellent sound-but, as they've done quite often lately, you've got to go on-line to find texts and translations. Still, this is a most enjoyable survey that suits the season and will reveal aspects of Lutoslawski's music that most of you haven't heard.