Lutoslawski's piano concerto is, on the surface, a wonderfully engaging, dramatic and beautiful work. It is a brilliant take on the traditional concerto format - one is sometimes reminded of both Mendelssohn and Rachmaninov peppered with Bartók, both structurally and texturally, but the language is uncompromisingly Lutoslawski. Still, despite the brilliant gestures and captivating sound world, something about the work remains elusive and there is something of the power and freshness of Lutoslawski of the sixties and seventies that appears to have been somewhat diluted. Nevertheless this is a fantastic, brilliant, colorful, splendidly crafted work which deserves to be heard and possibly to enter the repertoire.
The performances are magnificent. Krystian Zimerman sounds completely sympathetic and immersed in Lutoslawski's language, and provides a performance in many ways comparable and similar to his celebrated performances of the Ravel concertos; crystalline and razor-sharp, brilliant but utterly sensitive to minute changes in dynamics. He is brilliantly accompanied by a spirited BBC Symphony Orchestra directed by the composer himself.
The orchestra is no less compelling in the couplings. The Novelette is a superb work, entirely typical of the composer at his best; it is generally light and spry, but bold and spirited nonetheless, containing some stirring and striking contrasts of sonorities and complex but ingenious rhythms. Chain 3 sounds more reflective (but seems also to explain a lot of the transition from Lutoslawski's earlier works to the sound-world of the piano concerto) and provides some marvelous instrumental effects cogently worked together to long, coherent lines of musical argument. The sound is finely balanced and full, but clear and spacious. A very strongly recommended release, even if one may want to start elsewhere (the third symphony, perhaps) if one is not already familiar with the composer.