LUTOSLAWSKI: Symphony No. 2 / Piano Concerto (Antoni Wit/ Beata Jankowska/ Piotr Paleczny/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553169)
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Witold Lutuslawski (1913 - 1994)
Orchestral Music Vol. 2
Little Suite (Mala suita)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
The first ideas of the composer, which are found in the score of the SymphonicVariations, completed in 1938, were written down by Witold Lutoslawski, thena student of 23, as a composition pupil of Witold Maliszewski, in his class atthe Warsaw Conservatory. The Piano Concerto was completed in 1988, so that halfa century separates the earliest and the most recent of the compositions hererecorded, each of them presenting a symphonic work by the composer under adifferent form and at a different period of his development.
The Variations, the work of a young man, could be considered as a prelude tothe work of Lutostawski after 1957, starting from the Five Songs,settings of poems by Kazimiera Illakowiczowna, and the Funeral Music.
The Little Suite serves as a kind of interlude that one may, or indeed must,hear apart from the evolution of the composers musical language. The SecondSymphony may be regarded as one of the most precise revelations of thislanguage and the Piano Concerto as an example of the synthesis that marks thelast compositions.
The Symphonic Variations were performed for the first time in April1939, in a broadcast by Polish Radio in Warsaw, and again on 17th June at theroyal castle of Wawel at Krakow in one of the concerts at the World Festival ofthe International Society for Contemporary Music, which was held in Poland in1939. On both occasions the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra of Warsaw,predecessor of the Polish Radio Orchestra in Katowice, was directed by GrzegorzFitelberg (1879-1953). As this pioneer of contemporary music in Poland said, thesymphonic work of the young composer, which lasts barely ten minutes, would be"a little fellow preserved in formalin".
The Variations are based on a tonal theme, ten bars long, after thestatement of which, from a formal point of view, we can distinguish sevenvariations and a fugato conclusion, Allegro ma non troppo, the whole workforming a structural entity. The variations are not here a matter of contrastsof tempi with no contrasting juxtaposition of fast and slow, but rather thetransformation of melodic and rhythmic motifs and, above all, of colours. Thisapproach to variation technique could include certain analogies external to theidea of 'permanent variation' of the school of Arnold Schoenberg; in theharmonies of several chords or in the motoric ostinati can be heard echoes ofearly Igor Stravinsky, while in the contrapuntal technique we can sense theidiom of the First symphony and even of the Funeral Music of Lutosrawskihimself.
In 1950 Witold Lutosrawski accepted the proposal of Polish Radio that hewrite a work for the orchestra of Radio Warsaw, which specialised in popularrepertoire. He had already written his First Symphony, completed in 1947,regarded very negatively by the politico-cultural authorities of the time. InPoland, as in other countries dominated by the Soviet Union, it was a time whenofficial propaganda had to be introduced into art, including music, in what wascalled socialist realism, while formalism was deplored. The First Symphony regardedas 'formalist', while the Little Suite became one of the most popular works inPolish music of the early 1950s. More than once Lutostawski declared that hismusic in this period had the character of 'substitution'. The reason was that onthe one hand he wanted to continue his serious attempts to renew musicallanguage in order to create works that would fully satisfy him and would havecondemned these, having regard to the doctrine of the day, but, on the otherhand, because he did not yet feel himself able to construct his new language ofsound, the composer underlined this aspect of the problem, declaring "allthis period was spent in writing as I could and not writing as I wanted, becauseI was not yet capable of doing so. It was a time of deliberate compromise."
This is why some compositions, such as the Little Suite or the SilesianTriptych should not be interpreted so much as signs of the composer'saccommodation with the aesthetic doctrine of socialist realism but rather aspages of applied music, based above all on the inspiration of folk-lore, musicthat remains doctrinally neutral yet meets with approval. It should be stressedthat the beginning of the 1950s brought also a considerable number of didacticworks, especially for piano, as well as children's songs.
Thus in listening to the Little Suite we must isolate it from the period inwhich it was written: it must be seen as a stylization of folklorecharacteristic in the nationalist currents in European music of the first halfof the twentieth century, a stylization marked by the spirit and craftsmanshipaccording with the work's destination. In the music of Lutoslawski as a whole,the Little Suite serves as a prelude or technical study to the project for whichthe first ideas appeared exactly in 1950 and which were realised in 1954. Thiswas the Concerto for Orchestra, a masterly work of Polish neo-classicism, basedin large measure on the inspiration of folklore.
The Little Suite, written first for a chamber orchestra, aversion performedfor the first time for a broadcast in 1950 by the Polish Radio Orchestra inWarsaw, but not published, was arranged the following year for full orchestraand it is in this form that it has become part of concert repertoire. The workwas first performed by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice,conducted by Grzegorz Fitelberg, on 20th April 1951. It consists of fourmovements the themes of which are drawn from the folk-music of the South-East ofPoland, around the village of Machowo, in the voyvode of Rzeszow.
In the title of the first movement Piccolo (Allegretto) comes the dancingpart of the piccolo, accompanied by the rolling of the side-drum. In the secondmovement, entitled Hurra Polka (Vivace) the triple metre deliberately employedin a binary dance-form gives the music the character of a scherzo. The melody ofthe third movement Song (Andante) passes from one instrument to another, and thelast movement, Dance (Allegro molto) is in three parts, of which the first andlast provide the stylization of a regional dance, the Lasowiak, while thecentral section is a stylized version of a popular song, Poco p?? largo.
Before receiving his diploma in composition at the Warsaw Conservatory in1937 Witold Lutostawski had already completed in 1936 his studies in piano inthe class of Jerzy Lefeld. Although, as a boy, he had played the violin as well,it was the piano that played an important part in his life: for five years hewas a concert pianist. Under the National Socialist occupation of Poland heearned his living playing in Warsaw cafes, among others in a duo with thecomposer Andrzej Panufnik (1914 - 1991). The Variations on a Theme of Paganinifor two pianos (1941, arranged by the composer in 1978 for piano and orchestra),a work often played, stems from his experience at that time.
The piano holds an important place in the work of Lutostawski. There arepieces written for piano solo and songs corning from the 1940s and 1950s as wellas chamber music, where the piano, more than other instruments, has aparticularly exposed part to play. The idea of entrusting the central r??le tothe piano, that is to say to write a piano concerto, goes back to the 1940s, butwas only realised in the last, particularly