Witold Lutosławski: Symphonies Nos 1 & 4; Jeux vénitiens. Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Hannu Lintu. © 2018 Ondine Oy

CD Spotlight

Very Weird

Orchestral music by Witold Lutosławski,

'This is meaty music through and through and, admittedly, for some this may be off-putting.'


Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) is indeed one of the twentieth century's great composers, but his composing career took a very strange development. Being Polish might well be the main reason. Belonging to the Soviet bloc meant Socialist Realism was the dominant artistic style, and creative freedom was enslaved by the demands of a regime whose only aim was the glorification of an ideology that only stifled artistic innovation. No wonder Lutosławski found his true idiom in the early 1960s, despite starting his musical career before the Second World War.

The three works on the present disc cover a period of forty-five years of the composer's life and each one represents an important stage of Lutosławski's development. The First Symphony (1947) is one of the earliest significant works, and the opening to his magnificent symphonic cycle. It started life in difficult times during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Indeed it took six years to be completed (1941-1947), and with its sombre ethos and intense dramaturgy the work reflects the raging conflicts that Lutosławski was facing both outside and inside his self.

Listen — Lutosławski: Allegro giusto (Symphony No 1)
(track 1, 3:30-4:12) © 2018 Ondine Oy :

Jeux vénitiens is the first chamber orchestral work of Lutosławski's stylistic breakthrough in which he launched his so-called 'limited aleatorism'. This new language surprised many a critic and its sound world is, in all truth, very weird. The individual parts are written out in detail, but the synchronisation is left up to the performers. The overall effect - harmony and texture - remains firmly under the composer's control but the details vary from one performance to another.

Listen — Lutosławski: I (Jeux vénitiens)
(track 5, 1:00-1:31) © 2018 Ondine Oy :

The Fourth Symphony is a product of Lutosławski's late period at its most refined. It is characterised by a more nuanced and translucent harmonic approach, and an expanded role for expressive melodic writing. With this piece the composer's symphonic career came to an end. Conducted by Lutosławski himself, the symphony was premiered in Los Angeles in 1993, one year before an aggressive and cruel cancer ended his life. This is meaty music through and through and, admittedly, for some this may be off-putting.

Listen — Lutosławski: Symphony No 4
(track 9, 19:37-20:25) © 2018 Ondine Oy :

However, Lintu and his players manage to find all the answers to the composer's inner struggles with unequalled ardency and supreme ensemble playing, and repeated listening will bear its fruits. Sound and notes are first rate.

Copyright © 13 January 2019 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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