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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 December 2007
Shostakovich referred to Lutoslawski as "The Master". He recognised that Lutoslawski was writing under similar political constraints as himself, and yet was managing to produce works of the highest creative integrity, but with an instant, vital immediacy that found favour with both the censors and the public. A modernist with deep classical roots, and with an exquisite good taste. In fact, much the same agenda as Shostakovich.

Indeed, Lutoslawski had a life as full of drama as Shostakovich, Possibly more so, living through five distinct waves of invasion of his Polish homeland. He lost many of his close relatives to war and to the Russian revolution. He was also a lucky survivor of the Warsaw uprising of 45. Despite all this tragedy, which he was not much disposed to discuss, unlike Shostakovich, you would be hard pressed to identify evidence of these tribulations in his music. Somehow, it seems that his essentially cheerful and humane spirit was never broken by these dreadful traumas. In fact the key characteristics of his mature works are transcendant awe and mystery.

The extraordinary Musique Funebre or Funeral Music for Strings (1958), which is featured on this disc, marks the point in Lutoslawski's career when he finally committed completely to serialism, but very much on his own terms. His music prior to this work was relatively straightforward and tonal in character. Much of it was based on folk themes, typically lively and warm, and often involving bright, colourful ornamentation. However the Musique Funebre marks the point of departure into a totally new realm of extraordinary orchestral colour and rhythmic patterns, that defined a language entirely unique to him, and which he was to explore for the rest of his life. His subsequent music is full of brilliant counterpoint, strange pungent harmonies, thrilling virtuoso passages and intricate, compelling rhythms. The boldness of his exploration is somewhat analogous to that of Ligeti, but the territory is as individual to himself as Ligeti's was to him.

The Musique Funebre is a piece that should be more widely known, as it has a gravity and pathos akin to that of the (in)famous Barber Adagio. All the remaining works on this disc are post Musique Funebre, which makes it a cracker in the series. Having said that, if you buy this disc and you like it, then you might as well commit to buying the other six in the series, because they all include extraordinary music. Several of the discs are at least as good as this one, arguably better, and all of them contain nothing that is not worth hearing.

In my opinion Lutoslawski is as worthy of renown in the 20th Century pantheon as Messiaen, Stravinsky and the like. He broke the boundaries of his time into a completely individual domain of transcendent freedom. Naxos does a great service to culture by putting this marvellous music, by a composer of genius and humanity, back into the public domain. All the recordings are outstanding, as are the performances, the musicians clearly relishing their task throughout.
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I've come very late to the Polish genius Lutoslawski (1913~94) whom Shostakovich no less called 'The Master', but now I've discovered his marvellous music, I can't get enough.
I disagree with the fellow reviewer who calls the 4th symphony 'difficult'. None of the music here is hard-going in the least. There is always an essential lyricism, engagement, and mercurial wit on show to satisfy any listener with open ears and mind.
The opening Funeral Music for Strings is an intense, shimmeringly mesmerising experience while Chain II is a similarly brief but engrossing work for violin and orchestra (the opening movement 'Ad libitum' is stunnning, with a distinct East European tang), the solo musician here being the truly excellent Krzysztof Bakowski, who is also heard to advantage in the superb Partita for Violin and Orchestra.
There is also an enterprising orchestral Interlude, a six-minute piece that is utterly beguiling.
The fourth symphony is a single-movement twenty-minute masterpiece which rounds off this near-perfect disc from Naxos ~ in very good sound too ~ in magnificent style.
Sometimes Naxos gets it just right, and that's the case here. All these works are worth your time, and pay no heed to those who would warn against the 'difficulty' of this music. It's a painless pleasure, believe me.
Antoni Wit conducts the Polish National RSO with flair and an evident love for this energetic, fascinating music. The accompanying booklet notes are more than usually comprehensive and informative.

A beautiful bargain.
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on 3 December 2010
Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski is now acknowledged as one of the masters of 20th C classical music using both avante-garde + his own compositional techniques to produce undeniably arresting music that is arguably more approachable + enjoyable to the most noted late 20th C modernist composers - Pierre Boulez or Elliot Carter, if not Gyorgy Ligeti.

As a Lutoslwaski fan of over ten years now - having first being converted to his music via a London Barbican weekend dedicated to his music back in the late 1990s, i would just like to add a brief review here of the Naxos release of his Symphony no.4 etc. This cd although as fine as the others in the excellent series under Antoni Wit + the Polish NRSO for intense, committed playing and interpretation - it is NOT the best introduction to his music as the choice of music for this cd is rather too austere,lacking variety + doesnt do this great composer justice i feel.

Symphony No.4 is a pretty difficult + late work by Lutoslawski (his last Symphony from 1993)which summarises many of his varied techniques into a 20 minute work. its growing on me but lacks the overt brilliance of his Concerto, or vocal works. i would recommend people approach his more lyrical Symphony no.1 then the No.3 would be best to listen to first). Likewise the Chain No.2 for Violin remains in similar subdued territories, although the earlier Funeral Music also played here,is very powerful one of the best works here (and was dedicated to Bartok).this naxos cd for me lacks the diversity of the others in the series.

go instead for the absolutely riveting vocal compositions Chanteflueurs et Chantefables, Trois Poemes + also Mi-Parti. the CD under Essa Pekka Salnonen (on Sony) is similarly excellent with a fine Chantefleurs (w/Dawn Upshaw) + the Piano Cncerto. for me the best introduction to this composer is still his Concerto for Orchestra again under Wit in the naxos budget (or under the composer himself on EMI), as a great place to convert people to his music as "among the most accesssible of the twentieth century" (Rough guide to Classical Music) as that release contains a marvellous recording of Lutoslawski's most initially attractive large scale work.

alternatively - try the "best of Lutoslawski" release on naxos - for an bargain basement edited intro selection of his works for those in a hurry..
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on 10 March 2001
A real bargain! Lutoslawski is a superb craftsman and these luminous score bear witness to that. This is a good starting place if you do not know the music of this fascinating composer. Excellent recording and performance.
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It would probably be fair to say that I have been hearing this and that by Lutoslawski all my life and that it has all gone in one ear and out of the other. What is indisputably true is that this disc marks his debut in my musical collection and the first time I have listened to him with proper attention. Anything I have to say on the subject is therefore addressed to those (presumably many) whose acquaintance with him is on the level of my own and to those (probably a lot fewer) who are interested in improving that state of affairs.
I found these three works surprisingly easy to come to terms with even at a first hearing. The quality of the performances has a lot to do with that - the composer himself is in charge of the top-notch BBC Symphony Orchestra, two of the works have their dedicatees as soloists, and the third has the soloist chosen by its dedicatee for its first performance. The recorded sound is outstandingly good too - quite recent, from 1988/9, with two of the recordings done in the Walthamstow Town Hall, one of the finest recording studios in the world. However, proper credit to the music itself. There is a pleasant variety to the sound with a lot of light and air in the orchestration, particularly right at the start of the disc where the producer has thoughtfully sequenced the piano concerto, rightly identified by the liner-note writer as being the nearest of the three pieces to classical tonality in its idiom. Another thing that I liked about the music is that there is some real sense of movement about it. A predilection for the andante tempo set in among composers as early as the mid-19th century, it has clung to classical music with the grim tenacity of The Old Man of the Sea ever since, and Lutoslawski has managed to shake it off. All this let me hear some genuine lyricism - not like Schubert or Verdi or Brahms but lyricism all the same - in the striking Largo movement of the Partita. I would say that the piano concerto is a far easier nut to crack than Schoenberg's, and probably little if at all harder in that respect than Britten's. Having been put at my ease to that extent, I was the more receptive to the two violin works which are, I suppose, a little more challenging to the listener than, say, Schoenberg's chamber symphonies but a lot less demanding than his violin concerto.
Naturally one looks for guidance in the liner-note. This is not bad up to a point, but don't entertain excessive hopes. There is some useful background material, but rather a lot of it simply tells us what we can perfectly well hear for ourselves. 'The third movement begins with the soloist alone' I read for instance 'first in a recitative-like introduction and then in an extended cantabile melody which is resumed at the end of the movement, after a contrasting central section with orchestra' as the third movement began with the soloist alone and continued as advertised up to, through and after a contrasting central section with orchestra. There are some interesting remarks on the compositional techniques used, but even these seem to make rather a lot of not very much. Lutoslawski deployed something that he termed 'chain form', as an example, in which '...different, unrelated strands...are links in a chain'. Big deal, I thought to myself. How riveting. Now I shall know Lutoslawski's music when I next hear it with its different strands overlapped like links in a chain. However we are also told to find this characteristic in the finale of the piano concerto which is in a very simple variation-form known as a passacaglia, and whatever can be said about variations, in a passacaglia or elsewhere, one thing they can emphatically not be called is unrelated. Again, we are to hear 'complex textures which could not be achieved in any other way, but without any loosening of the composer's overall control...' How does he tell, one wonders.
With the third millennium there seems to be a definite reaction against some of the intellectualising that overtook music (classical music that is to say- popular music, music that millions actually listen to, took no notice) during the 20th century. I sensed this recently in a slightly coat-trailing short essay by Stephen Hough that comes with his fine disc of York Bowen, but I had started to become aware of it earlier. The way of such counter-revolutions is that they tend to go too far, and I hope we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I enjoyed these works of Lutoslawski, I'm not going to be alone in that I'm quite sure, but before long they may have the status of period-pieces if the new trend continues.
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on 18 May 2008
This music like much of modern classical music is very hard going at times. However, to be fair, it is not completely inaccessible!
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