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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, March 2011

Lutosławski was of course a well-known exponent of his own music, and conducted often with great success. This concert from Toronto in October of 1993 was the last appearance the composer made as a conductor of his own works.

Lutosławski is often thrown in with the denizens of the avant-garde, but this is a vast oversimplification. In fact he rejected the Darmstadt school (Boulez, Stockhausen, et al) completely, and felt “very sad” about the direction they were taking. The composer himself had roots in folk music and the tonal application of melody, and his craft is born out of a need to examine and develop the full complex of western music with its intrinsic historical associations. We see this easily in compositions like the Partita, Interlude, and Chain 2 for violin and orchestra, while Chain 1 inaugurated his concept of “strands” of music that neither begin nor end together, yet are linked by the fact of each strand giving birth to a new one, a sort of continuous development.

The surrealist poet Robert Desnos is responsible for the collection of rhymes that mirror nature in Chantefleurs et Chantefables, a nine-song cycle that exploits the lyrical aspects of the composer’s voice while exhibiting a most evocative and sensuous accompaniment. Valdine Anderson sings beautifully in these exquisite pieces.

…Fujiko Imajishi’s…violin work…is…creditable job and very worthwhile. All together a fine historical document of no little interest, with some fine performances to boot. The sound in this live concert is excellent.

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, January 2011

According to Dominy Clements in his review on this website, this disc is “more than just a souvenir”. I would echo this and add that for some of these works this could very well become the preferred recording. Lutosławski was always a fine conductor of his own works. The fact that this was taken from a live concert, and the composer’s last one at that, delivers a certain frisson that is not always apparent in the studio. Overall, these are well played (and sung) and idiomatically interpreted accounts, and the selection provides plenty of variety for music composed within the same decade at the height of the composer’s career.

The performances of the Partita, Interlude, and Chain 2 come in direct competition with those on an earlier CD (Naxos 8.553202), part of the series conducted by Antoni Wit that has garnered considerable praise from the critics. Both the Partita in its orchestral version and Chain 2 were premiered by their dedicatee, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and recorded for DG with the composer conducting. Later at Paul Sacher’s suggestion, Lutosławski added an orchestral Interlude without solo violin to separate the two works and create a triptych, in which form the work received its first performance on 10 January 1990. The order of the three compositions as presented here follows that of the premiere, whereas that on the earlier Naxos CD begins with Chain 2 and ends with the Partita. I do not see that it makes any difference, since one does not consider the whole triptych as a concerto as such but rather as a triptych with the two main works being able to stand alone in performance. I do not have the Mutter recording at hand, but the other two seem fairly evenly matched. Both are excellent and do full justice to the music.

Chain 1, the earliest of the selections on this disc, is an orchestral tour de force, something like a mini concerto for orchestra. Antoni Wit’s account on Naxos 8.555763 is rather bolder and more outgoing than the one from the composer’s last concert. However, Lutosławski’s has its own rewards: in its more subtle way, it flatters the inner parts of the orchestra, especially during the quieter moments. If I had to choose, I would probably stick with Wit, but I can also appreciate what the composer does here.

With the songs, Chantefleurs et Chantefables, the competition is keener. I became acquainted with these songs from Dawn Upshaw’s performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen on Sony SK 67189. These songs contain some of Lutosławski’s most delicate and memorable writing. The danger is to over-interpret them and make more of them than what is there. I compared the present recording by Canadian soprano Valdine Anderson with Upshaw’s and one by Olga Pasiercznik on a disc in the Naxos series conducted by Antoni Wit (Naxos 8.554283). Anderson’s seems the most direct, Pasiercznik’s the most withdrawn, and Upshaw’s the most dramatic. All are successful and none really over-interpret, though Upshaw comes close at times. I am certain that Upshaw’s would be interesting and great fun to watch in a live performance, but I now lean more towards Anderson’s direct but very expressive interpretation. Pasiercznik lacks some of the life of the other two, though her more backward placement could be at least partly responsible for that. She is never less than accomplished. The composer on the present disc also brings out the orchestral accompaniment better than either Wit or Salonen.

To sum up, then, this disc is a must for any fan of Lutosławski. The fact that it is his last concert, and one so well performed and recorded, is an added incentive. The notes in the accompanying booklet are up to Naxos’s high standards and the price is right.

Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, December 2010

There is never a guarantee that this kind of thing will be a great performance, but the sense of poignancy around ‘last’ recordings will always be something of a draw. We are fortunate that what turned out to be Witold Lutosławski’s final appearance as a conductor was recorded by CBC, and while all of these pieces can be found in excellent studio recordings elsewhere in the Naxos catalogue this turns out to be a fine programme, well performed and very serviceable as a live recording.

The Partita was originally written for violin and piano, and while the orchestration is the composer’s own I’m not sure I prefer this version to the purity of the chamber version. The trademark orchestral colours are quite distinctive and very effective, but transcribed from piano notes the result somehow sound a bit leaden and dated. Fujiko Imajishi is an able soloist, and I’m glad her part is not overly spot-lit in the recorded balance – mixing with and melting into the upper sonorities of the orchestra where the score demands this effect. The central Largo is always a movingly emotive section, and both soloist and orchestra create a nice atmosphere here. The delicate passages in the final Presto are lovely, and the harp and tuned percussion create a remarkable halo around the soloist.

With this live recording we are treated to a wash of applause at the end of each piece, but audience noise is otherwise very low. It needs to be at the opening of the magical Interlude, which begins with impossibly quiet strings. The piccolo is a little heavy handed for the first few little interjections, but apart from one or two mildly abrasively tuned string entries this is a decent enough performance. Conceived as a ‘dialogue for violin and orchestra’, Chain 2 is wider ranging than the Partita, and the playful effects of soloist and a variety of stunning orchestral effects is vibrant and lively in this recording. With good energy and such a wide range of contrasts this is a fine performance filled with plenty of stunning moments, with all of that edgy advantage a good live recording should have.

Chantefleurs et Chantefables is a continuation of Lutosławski’s fascination with the poetry of Robert Desnos, beginning in the 1970s with ‘Les Espaces du sommeil’. This set of nine songs is filled with character and ranges in emotion from the perfumed romanticism of the opening La Belle-de-nuit to the sliding elusiveness of La Véronique, and including songs like L’Alligator which are rich in wit and warmly sardonic humour. The texts are unfortunately not given in the booklet, but Valdine Anderson’s singing is certainly one of the highlights of this disc. She doesn’t go too far out of her way in terms of ‘acting’ the various roles in a vocal sense, but the audience response at certain points certainly indicates some extra visual interaction. Her vocal quality is nicely pure, beautifully intonated and expressive, the orchestral accompaniments sensitive and potent by turns.

Potent indeed is the final work, Chain 1, which was written for the fourteen virtuoso London Sinfonietta players in the early 1980s during the period when Michael Vyner was their artistic leader. The ensemble playing might have been a bit tighter than it appears here in certain patches, but given once again the atmosphere of a live performance in which the players are clearly giving their all for their guest conductor/composer, and you are left with little cause for complaint.

This CD is more than just a souvenir of Witold Lutosławski’s last conducted concert. Despite the availability of ‘cleaner’ versions of these pieces in Naxos’s excellent Lutosławski series this recording can stand on its own two feet as an impressive testament to one of Poland’s legendary figures of 20th century music. It should certainly be added as a supplement to anyone’s Lutosławski collection, and belongs firmly shoulder to shoulder with his earlier studio recorded legacy on EMI.

James Manheim, December 2010

This is not a re-creation of the last concert conducted by Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, but a recording of his actual last appearances conducting his own music, in Toronto on October 24, 1993, a few months before his death. As a live recording it’s quite good; the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) sound is clear, and crowd noise is restricted to some nice applause at the ends of pieces. Apart from the fact of Lutosławski’s appearance as conductor, the album is noteworthy for its program; the earliest work, Chain 1, was composed in 1983, when Lutosławski was 70, and the entire group focuses to an unusual degree on the composer’s late style. Toward the end of his life Lutosławski restricted, but did not discard, his trademark aleatoric (chance) techniques, putting them to very specific uses within a strict framework of intervals and motives. Chain 1 and Chain 2 represent what the composer called his chain form, in which the music defines two processes (his word is “strands”) that overlap and wrap around each other like the links of a chain (or perhaps a braid). All these works follow similar procedures; they define a sequence of intervallic events that are brilliantly set off by the orchestration and are likely to be apparent even to general listeners. Lutosławski’s influence has been great; American and British symphony concert programs are full of compositions that try to do what Lutosławski does here, but don’t do it as well. The Partita (tracks 1–5) is based on an earlier Lutosławski chamber work and features a more conventional five-movement form, with two ad libitum movements in Lutosławski’s more familiar manner. The song cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables is based on poems by Robert Desnos (1900–1945), a poet who died in one of the Nazi concentration camps Lutosławski narrowly avoided. Non-Francophones will be hampered here by the lack of texts, even online. The instrumental works, however, are worth the time of anyone interested in Lutosławski; they’re mostly available on other recordings, but Canada’s New Music Concerts Ensemble crisply responds to Lutosławski’s direction and gives the music the structural clarity it needs.

Bruce Surtees
The WholeNote, November 2010

The late Polish composer, Witold Lutosławski (1913–1994) enjoyed well deserved recognition and his music was regularly performed and recorded by the world’s greatest orchestras and instrumentalists. A new Naxos CD features an elite group of Toronto musicians, the New Music Concerts Ensemble, under the direction of the composer recorded at a live concert in the Premier Dance Theatre on October 24, 1993.

The program opens with the Partita for violin and orchestra (1988) with brilliant playing by Fujiko Imajishi. Lutosławski’s complex textures are made transparent by both the crisp ensemble and a well balanced recording. The quiet and haunting Interlude (1989) was written as a bridge between Partita and an earlier concerted work for violin, Chain 2 (1985), which follows. Once again Imajishi provides a stunning performance.

Soprano Valdine Anderson also shines as she easily manages the nine delightful and quirky songs comprising Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1990) in a voice ranging from the purity of a boy soprano to broad operatic proportions.

Like Chain 2, Chain 1 (1983), the final work on this disc, is an amusing piece full of vitality and humour, somewhat reminiscent of Poulenc or even Stravinsky, executed to perfection by members of the group.

Lutosławski died at the age of 81 a few months after this concert was recorded for broadcast by the CBC and this Toronto performance was his last conducting appearance anywhere. The recording has plenty of atmosphere, taking the listener right into the theatre. Originally released independently in 1998, it speaks well of founding director Robert Aitken and his New Music Concerts Ensemble that Naxos has chosen to bring this valuable document to international attention.

Norman Lebrecht
Dilettante, October 2010

The composer conducted for the last time on October 24, 1993 in Toronto, Canada, and was recorded by the CBC. The programme consisted of his Partita, Chain-1 and 2 and the little-heard Chantefleurs et Chantefables, from poems by Robert Desnos, with Valdine Anderson as soloist. The New Music Concerts Ensemble do their supple best and Fujiko Imashi is intense in Partita, but the sense of occasion gets the better of the players at times, softening the focus and leaving little more than souvenir value.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2010

Naxos has already paid invaluable homage to Witold Lutosławski by recording his complete orchestral works, and now they add the last concert he conducted. We tend to forget that it was working as a pianist, conductor and lecturer that he was able to fund his time spent as a composer, and it was only in later life that his music became internationally known outside of modern music groups. His style was to undergo three major changes of direction, though it was always in a state of flux as he experimented with new sonorities. Being a severe self-critic curtailed his output, and on his death in 1993, he left a modest catalogue of works, mainly orchestral and vocal. He was to conduct most of the major European and North American orchestras, and here in his last public concert recorded by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto’s Premier Dance Theatre, he directed the New Music Concerts Ensemble. It was devoted to music from the last years of his life, when his creativity was undimmed. Unique documents and I do not intend to compare with the Naxos cycle, save to say that those Polish recordings had the superior orchestra. The soloist here is a fine Japanese violinist, Fujiko Imajishi, who lived and made an orchestral career in North America after winning major competitions there. She drives through the technical challenges in the Partita and Chain 2 as if they did not exist, both performances suitably gripping. I also much like the Canadian soprano, Valdine Anderson in one of my favourite 20th century vocal works, Chantefleurs et Chantefables that more or less continue where Ravel left off. Previously issued on the New Music Concerts label, the sound is good.

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