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Lutoslawski - Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp and ChamberOrchestra CD

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Appealing Music in Both of Lutoslawski's Styles 14 Nov. 2003
By J Scott Morrison - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The title refers to Witold Lutoslawski's differing styles contained on the CD. He started as a fairly conservative composer--e.g. his Concerto for Orchestra, Paganini Variations for Two Pianos--but then became more and more radical as time went on. What is amazing is that no matter the style Lutoslawski (1913-1994) always sounds like Lutoslawski. There is an impeccable craft--even in those pieces where there is an aleatoric element--and, underlying all, a sort of wittiness that I've always found attractive.
The first piece, 'Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Orchestra,' was originally for clarinet and piano, but he reworked it a few years later for clarinet and orchestra. There is a third version for wind quintet and solo strings. It's the clarinet and orchestra version recorded here, a little suite of five folk-derived movements totaling less than ten minutes. Soloist Zbigniew Kaleta does a terrific job of underlining the folkdance element, and indeed he keeps the whole thing dancing.
The 'Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp, and Orchestra' was commissioned by Paul Sacher, that wealthy Swiss conductor who was a veritable Maecenas of new works. It was written for the master of 'the cranky oboe' (Andrew Adler's phrase), Heinz Holliger, and his wife, harpist Ursula Holliger. This is not a concerto for equals; the harp part is clearly an obbligato instrument here, a Sancho Panza to the oboe's Quixote--it's really the oboist's show. Full of incident--and of extended technique for the oboist who occasionally uses, among other things, bent tones and multiphonics--the three movements have headlong forward movement, even in the 'dolente' middle movement which leads directly into the third, a march for oboe and xylophone that then recalls the opening buzzing of the strings heard in the first movement. The rhythmic and harmonic variety, mostly of a witty, even ironic, type, makes this concerto a jeu d'esprit. Oboist Arkadiusz Krupa and harpist Nicolas Tulliez do a fine job, only a little less effective than the Holligers in their recording with Lutoslawski himself conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony still available on a 2 CD set from Polygram.
'Grave' for cello and string orchestra, played eloquently here by cellist Rafal Kwiatkowski, is a somber six-minute tribute, a set of variations, to his late friend, musicologist Stefan Jarocinski, whose intimate knowledge of the music of Debussy led Lutoslawski to quote 'Pelléas et Mélisande' in the opening bars of the work.
'Chain I' is the first of a series of three works named 'Chain' whose structure involves the overlapping of the musical ideas (links in a chain) so that it is difficult to tell where one leaves off and the next begins. Chain I was undertaken right after the composition of what is perhaps Lutoslawski's most famous late work, the wondrous Symphony No. 3 which, in some compositional respects, it resembles. For fourteen players (bassoon, clarinet In Bb, flute [doubling piccolo and alto flute], harpsichord, horn in F, oboe [doubling cor anglais], percussion, strings [], trombone, trumpet in C), it is in three somewhat indistinct sections. There are some aleatoric elements which are, nonetheless, fairly strictly prescribed by the composer. It is played with élan by principals from the Polish National Radio Orchestra under Antoni Wit, who conducts all the pieces here with deep familiarity and style.
The disc concludes with eight children's songs, from two different sets--'Two Children's Songs' and 'Six Children's Songs'--with words by Poland's master of children's verse, Julian Tuwim. They are from early in Lutoslawski's career and represent his 'easy' style in their simplicity and diatonic harmonies. They are performed nicely by soprano Urszula Kryger. Unfortunately the texts are not provided in the booklet.
This is the eighth of Naxos's series of recordings of Lutoslawski's complete orchestral works. Isn't it amazing what Naxos is doing for our expanding awareness of some hidden corners of the modern classical music literature? Huzzah, I say, huzzah!
Scott Morrison
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More fine music from Naxos 27 Dec. 2006
By Personne - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Naxos continues to impress me with this fine CD. As with the others in the series, the CD contains pieces from across Lutoslawski's life. The so-called 'folk-music' period is represented by a fine reading of Dance Preludes (certainly not under-represented on CD--I have at least three recordings) as well as two cycles of songs for children. Lutoslawski's sureness of line and illustrative orchestration are well in evidence here. Sadly, works of this vintage are often the only work of this composer that many people know. It's a sound-world not much different from Martinu or early Bartok. It's a world that Lutoslawski forcefully abandonded by midlife.

"Chain 1" is the first of the Chain series where Lutoslawski began working with interwoven melodies. It's a curious fish that points (let's mix metaphors here) both forward and back. For the most part, it has a clarity that was not always obvious in work of the preceding decade. At the same time, there's a "climax by accumulation", which was a key aspect of mid-period works like "Livres". It's not entirely convincing, but is seldom repeated in works to follow.

"Grave" combines solo cello and string orchestra in an intensely lyrical six minutes. Few composers in recent memory could write so effectively for strings.

But the keystone of the CD is the "Double Concerto" for Oboe, Harp and Chamber Orchestra. This is among the most accessible of Lutoslawski's mature works. This performance is one of several available recordings, and acquits itself well. The brief first movement begins with an aleatoric swarm of strings, an effect that repeats a few times with diminishing intensity. Such writing had been an important aspect of Lutoslawki's middle period, and was almost completely abandonded in the works that followed the Double Concerto. In many ways, you can hear the composer discarding the technique as the movement proceeds The middle movement is singing and lyrical, demanding sureness of intonation and command of the highest register of the oboe. The oboist, Arkadiusz Krupa, is admirably up to these demands. The final movement is a comic masterpiece. It has a quirky little march, with the lightest of strings and percussion. It features a domestic argument of sorts, with lovely harp writing continually shouted down by screeching oboe multiphonics (the original performers were Heinz and Ursula Holliger--husband and wife). The piece wraps up with a reprise of the march over some wonderfully syncopated string harmony. To my ear, the original Holliger recording is a bit more effective in this final movement. Sill, this performance is excellent. I have many recordings of this fine piece and each one beckons for its own reasons.

It should be pointed out that these are also superb recordings from a technical point of view. They are beautifully detailed without harshness. Balances are spot-on. Antoni Wit conducts with respect for what's on the page and all the possibilities presented there. The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra plays this music as well as any orchestra in the world.
3.0 out of 5 stars As usual in its Lutoslawski series, Naxos pairs a couple of fine works with minor entries in the composer's catalogue 8 May 2014
By Christopher Culver - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This Naxos CD with three Lutoslawski pieces was part of the label's survey of the Polish composer's orchestral works, the various separate releases eventually being gathered in one box set. As always, Antoni Wit leads the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.

"Chain 1" (1983), the Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Chamber Orchestra (1979-1980) and "Grave" (1981/1982) have a soundworld very comparable to the Symphony No. 3 of around the same time, widely considered Lutoslawski's masterpiece. The composer employs his celebrated technique of limited aleatorism, where the pitches are precisely notated, but the conductor does not signal the beat ("ad libitum"), resulting in a bubbly texture that could not be achieved in other means. However, this technique is beginning to be reduced, and the composer hints at a more traditional Late Romantic idiom, which would slowly consume his music over the course of the Eighties with disastrous results. With at least a couple of these pieces, however, Lutoslawski still had it.

The Double Concerto is in three movements, "Rapsodico – Appassionato", "Dolente" and "Marciale e grotesco". The first movement is essentially fast and "complex". The second movement opens with pizzicato strings ad libitum, which are soon replaced by the oboe offering a poignant melody, and a calm and poignant mood sets in. The last movement is indeed a march, but its "grotesque" character appears in only one portion, alternating with more conventional writing (this perhaps only emphasises its grotesqueness). The piece goes out with a highly virtuosic coda.

"Chain 1" explores a form where new developments start while earlier ones are finished. Thus this 9-minute piece flows along enjoyable. The climax is of the same intensity as the Symphony No. 3. "Grave" for cello and strings, with Rafal Kwiatkowski as soloist, is a 5-minute arrangement of an earlier piece for cello and piano, for the most part more conventionally neo-Romantic and therefore a disappointment for me, though there are complex textures here and there.

Finally we have some pieces dating when Lutoslawski was writing within the constraints set down by the Communist regime. The Dance Preludes (1955) are five short pieces with an obbligato part for clarinet, here played by Zbigniew Kaleta. There are also two cycles of children's songs where soprano Urszula Kryger performers. While pleasant, these are not major works. Lutoslawski had managed to create a classic even under socialist realism with his Concerto for Orchestra, but the same magic doesn't happen here.

It is hard to rate this or any other Naxos Lutoslawski disc a full five stars, as the label always mixed great works with mediocre ones. Only "Chain 1" and the Double Concerto are among Lutoslawski's best works. However, Lutoslawski is a major 20th-century composer, and the Naxos series (best had in the cheaper box set) will give you a lot of enjoyable music.
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