About this Recording
8.555763 - LUTOSLAWSKI, W.: Double Concerto for Oboe and Harp / Dance Preludes / Chain I (Polish National Radio Symphony, Wit)
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Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)

Orchestral Works, Vol. 8


It might seem tempting to describe the works included in this eighth volume of the orchestral music of Witold Lutoslawski as representing the lighter side of his composing. In fact each of the five works has a significant place within his overall output. Dance Preludes is a pendant to the Concerto for Orchestra [Naxos 8.553779], the climax of a phase in which Lutoslawski’s work was - indeed, had to be - centred on folk music. The Double Concerto and, in its more restricted way, Grave resolve many of the compositional questions that the composer had been wrestling with during the 1970s, making possible the impressive span of the Third Symphony [Naxos 8.553423]. After that work, Lutoslawski sought new ways of establishing coherence in his music - Chain 1 being the first of three pieces in which melodic continuity is made paramount. As to the Eight Children’s Songs, these evince a positive approach to the Stalinist dictates of the period, as well as furthering a line of folk-based song composition with its antecedents in Janác˘ek, Bartók and Stravinsky.


Described by the composer as his “farewell to folklore”, Dance Preludes was originally composed for clarinet and piano in 1954 and orchestrated the following year (a further arrangement for chamber ensemble followed in 1959), though the public première came only with the 1963 Aldeburgh Festival, given by Gervase de Peyer, the English Chamber Orchestra and Benjamin Britten. The opening Allegro molto features a perky theme for the soloist, discreetly accompanied by orchestra. The Andantino is a wistful elegy, with a noticeably Bartókian idea as contrast. With its effective writing for piano and snare drum, the Allegro giocoso looks back to the rhythmic high jinks of the Capriccio notturno from the recent Concerto for Orchestra. The Andante begins as a stealthy motion in piano and lower strings, reminiscent this time of the Passacaglia of the Concerto, the soloist unwinding a plaintive melody which remains unresolved, tonally and emotionally, at the close. This uncertainty is dispelled by the lively Allegro molto, with its folk-inflected theme and syncopated accompaniment, ending with an amusing coup de théâtre.


The Double Concerto was commissioned by the Swiss conductor and new music patron Paul Sacher for the oboist Heinz Holliger, at whose request an obligato harp part for his wife Ursula was included. Completed in 1980, the work was first performed in August that year, when the Holligers were joined by the Collegium Musicum and Sacher. The orchestra consists of two percussionists and twelve strings which, though the number can be increased in larger venues, enables the composer to use them as an ensemble of soloists.


The Rapsodico opens with swarming string textures, out of which oboe and harp emerge in an elegant duet. This alternation of the two musical ‘types’ continues in animated fashion, until a brusque gesture from percussion brings them together in an Appassionato of high tension, culminating in a return of the swarming strings and a violent percussive outburst, the soloists left to end the movement in halting fashion.


Marked Dolente, the slow movement begins with an intricate crescendo pattern on pizzicato strings, at the height of which oboe and harp enter in a spare yet expressive dialogue. Again there is an intensifying alternation, this time resulting in the arrival of gentle marimba chords which deflect the soloists into keening reverie. After a brief confrontation with drums, they unwind against ascending strings, whose dynamic crescendo leads straight into the Marziale e grotesco finale.


This sets off as a fleet march for oboe and xylophone against pirouetting strings, the harp then assuming the foreground in a humorous dialogue with string glissandi. The central portion is reached with grating oboe sounds, contrasted with magical ensemble textures, after which an impulsive cadenza for the soloists culminates in a return of the strings’ opening gesture and a resumption of the march for oboe, harp and percussion. Strings re-enter in a dense recall of the ‘swarming’ from the beginning of the work, which now hurtles to its curt but decisive conclusion.


Composed in memory of the Polish musicologist and critic Stefan Jarocinski (1912-80), Grave is subtitled Metamorphoses for cello and piano. First given in Warsaw during April 1981, the piece was arranged for thirteen solo strings the following year, a version first heard at the Festival Estival in Paris that August. Jarocinski was renowned for his knowledge of Debussy’s music, Pelléas et Mélisande above all, and Lutoslawski opens his tribute with a quotation from the initial forest scene of that opera. Cello and strings pursue a moodily intense dialogue, opening out in robust rhythmic exchanges before a sustained cadenza passage ushers in the spectral, ambivalent close.


After the completion of his Third Symphony in 1983, Lutoslawski sought a new formal continuity in what he termed the ‘chain’ process of overlapping musical ideas so that the beginning and ending of each is deliberately blurred. Three such pieces were composed over the next three years, Chain 1 being a commission from Michael Vyner for the fourteen players of the London Sinfonietta, and given its first performance in London during July 1983. Three distinct stages are apparent: first, a sequence of capricious gestures for the instruments, solo and as members of the ensemble; second, the melding of these gestures into progressively longer melodic lines, notably for cello, flute, violin and trumpet, and fuller textures, culminating in a compressed chordal sequence and ending with tam tam and cymbal strokes; finally, a brief evaporation of tension and texture in the manner of several earlier works.


The eight Children’s Songs are from a total of 45 such songs that Lutoslawski wrote between 1947 and 1959, intended to fulfil a social need rather than merely conform to the dictates of Socialist Realism during the first half of that period. All eight are to texts by Julian Tuwim (1894-1953), long considered the ‘Polish A.A. Milne’. The two first songs date from 1948. The Belated Nightingale is a whimsical lullaby, touchingly scored, while About Mr Tralalinski is a good-humoured nonsense rhyme. The remaining six songs all date from 1947. Dance has a cheeky rhythmic profile, while The Four Seasons is of a gently melancholic strain. Kitten has the feel of wistful domesticity, complemented by the jauntier tread of Grzes is going through the village. A Brook emphasizes the melodic gift that Lutoslawski pursued in waltzes, tangos and foxtrots written during the 1950s and early 1960s under the pseudonym ‘Derwid’. The Bird’s Gossips then rounds off the sequence in unaffected high spirits.


Richard Whitehouse

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