This is the third volume in the Chandos series devoted to the music of the Polish composer Witold Lutosawski. It brings together his first surviving orchestral piece (The Symphonic Variations) and his last symphony, as well as two works for piano and orchestra an early work originally written for two pianos (The Paganini Variations), and his very last concerto. The works are performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner, described by Gramophone as a veritable Dream Team in Vol. 1. They are joined in this recording by Louis Lortie, the award-winning pianist and exclusive Chandos artist. Lutosawski composed his Symphonic Variations while he was studying with Witold Maliszewski at the Warsaw Conservatory. When he showed the work to his teacher, he was told in no uncertain terms: For me your work is ugly. A rather disheartening response to be sure, but perhaps also proof that here was a work that was well ahead of its time. Today it fits in easily with the European tradition of variation form, and is considered a prime example of the lush, but edgy harmonies of the composer, and of his vivid ear for instrumental colour and virtuosity. Less than three years later, Poland was invaded by Germany, and normal music life disappeared. In its place, musical cafés emerged as places where light music as well as mainstream repertoire was performed. Lutosawski made his living in these cafés by playing a repertoire of light music, arranged by himself and his piano-duet partner, Andrzej Panufnik. All but one of these works were destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The sole survivor was the Variations on a Theme of Paganini. The version recorded here is Lutosawskis orchestration for piano and orchestra, of the original version for two pianos. Also on this disc is the Piano Concerto, the last of Lutosawskis concertante works, as well as Symphony No. 4, which Lutosawski composed over four years (1988 92), conducting its premiere in Los Angeles, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, in 1993, just a year before his death.
Ed Gardiner and the BBC Orchestra obviously found a workable rapport here. They play four modern classics with assurance, virtuosity and, yes, fun. Lutoslawski is one of the most rewarding of 20th- Century composers, with a rhythmic and melodic gift which continually suprises. Louis Lorte is a dazzling soloist in the Piano Concerto, while the once-voguish Fourth Symphony is wonderfully well-performed.***** --Sunday Telegraph,08/01/12
For a composer who won the respect and affection of the UK concert-going public in the last 20 years of his life, Witold Lutoslawski (1913-94) has since been shamefully neglected. So it is good news that the Philharmonia Orchestra is planning a major retrospective next season. In the meantime, Chandos's excellent series of studio recordings not only helps to fill the gap but also reminds us what a craftsman the Polish composer was: there s not a note out of place, nor a crass gesture. This latest volume includes some lesser-known but far from insubstantial works the early Symphonic Variations, the jazz-inflected Variations on a Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra, and two late masterpieces, the Piano Concerto and Fourth Symphony. The concerto is a racy, conversational work that evokes both Ravel and Rachmaninov, while the 20-minute symphony, played without a break, must rank as one of Lutoslawski's most enigmatic scores a canvas of weighty imagination interspersed with characteristically jewel-like inventions. These well-prepared performances, by pianist Louis Lortie and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner, underline that Lutoslawski's oeuvre is classically wrought, full of welcome surprises and always communicative. **** --Financial Times,24/01/12
The Symphonic Variations from 1938 already show the young Lutoslawski's expertise in colourful orchestration. Here Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony, backed up by a glittering sound, do this work proud. Performance**** Recording***** --BBC Music Magazine,Mar'12
Lortie,sensitive to the score, is magnificently scurrying in the second movement,and Gardner is hyper-keen of response,too.Together,Lortie and Gardner convey the multitude of moods here,including the darkness of the third movement.Lortie's skittering touch again enlivens the Paganini Variations, where lutoslawski's entertaining,circus-like humour comes to the fore.Gardener impresses, too, eliciting some wonderful brass chord weighting.A wonderful disc. --International Piano, Mar/Apr 2012
Something of a revelation, then, and Lortie is no less inside the Variations on a theme of Paganini(1941)- a two-piano work written for the composer and Andrzej Panufnik and heard in its 1978 revision with orchestra, where the 12 variations more clearly take on the guise of a mini concerto whose large sections culminate in a apotheosis hardly less dazzling than of the Rhapsody which inspired it. Bernd Glemser's account is duly eclipsed and this disc, with its opulent SACD sound....reasserts Lutoslawski's stature at a time when his centenary is fast approaching. --IRR, Mar'12
Throughout, Gardner secures some first-class playing from the BBC SO. Cordially recommended. GRAMOPHONE CHOICE --Gramophone,Apr'12