Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994)
Orchestral Works, Vol. 8
It might seem tempting to describe the works included inthis eighth volume of the orchestral music of Witold Lutoslawski asrepresenting the lighter side of his composing. In fact each of the five workshas a significant place within his overall output. Dance Preludes is a pendantto the Concerto for Orchestra [Naxos 8.553779], the climax of a phase in whichLutoslawski's work was - indeed, had to be - centred on folk music. The DoubleConcerto and, in its more restricted way, Grave resolve many of the compositionalquestions that the composer had been wrestling with during the 1970s, makingpossible the impressive span of the Third Symphony [Naxos 8.553423]. After thatwork, Lutoslawski sought new ways of establishing coherence in his music -Chain 1 being the first of three pieces in which melodic continuity is madeparamount. As to the Eight Children's Songs, these evince a positive approachto the Stalinist dictates of the period, as well as furthering a line offolk-based song composition with its antecedents in Janac˘ek, Bartok andStravinsky.
Described by the composer as his \farewell to folklore",Dance Preludes was originally composed for clarinet and piano in 1954 andorchestrated the following year (a further arrangement for chamber ensemble followedin 1959), though the public premi?¿re came only with the 1963 AldeburghFestival, given by Gervase de Peyer, the English Chamber Orchestra and BenjaminBritten. The opening Allegro molto features a perky theme for the soloist,discreetly accompanied by orchestra. The Andantino is a wistful elegy, with anoticeably Bartokian idea as contrast. With its effective writing for piano andsnare drum, the Allegro giocoso looks back to the rhythmic high jinks of theCapriccio notturno from the recent Concerto for Orchestra. The Andante beginsas a stealthy motion in piano and lower strings, reminiscent this time of thePassacaglia of the Concerto, the soloist unwinding a plaintive melody whichremains unresolved, tonally and emotionally, at the close. This uncertainty isdispelled by the lively Allegro molto, with its folk-inflected theme andsyncopated accompaniment, ending with an amusing coup de the?ótre.
The Double Concerto was commissioned by the Swiss conductorand new music patron Paul Sacher for the oboist Heinz Holliger, at whoserequest an obligato harp part for his wife Ursula was included. Completed in1980, the work was first performed in August that year, when the Holligers werejoined by the Collegium Musicum and Sacher. The orchestra consists of twopercussionists and twelve strings which, though the number can be increased inlarger venues, enables the composer to use them as an ensemble of soloists.
The Rapsodico opens with swarming string textures, out ofwhich oboe and harp emerge in an elegant duet. This alternation of the twomusical 'types' continues in animated fashion, until a brusque gesture frompercussion brings them together in an Appassionato of high tension, culminatingin a return of the swarming strings and a violent percussive outburst, thesoloists left to end the movement in halting fashion.
Marked Dolente, the slow movement begins with an intricatecrescendo pattern on pizzicato strings, at the height of which oboe and harpenter in a spare yet expressive dialogue. Again there is an intensifyingalternation, this time resulting in the arrival of gentle marimba chords whichdeflect the soloists into keening reverie. After a brief confrontation withdrums, they unwind against ascending strings, whose dynamic crescendo leads straightinto the Marziale e grotesco finale.
This sets off as a fleet march for oboe and xylophoneagainst pirouetting strings, the harp then assuming the foreground in ahumorous dialogue with string glissandi. The central portion is reached withgrating oboe sounds, contrasted with magical ensemble textures, after which animpulsive cadenza for the soloists culminates in a return of the strings'opening gesture and a resumption of the march for oboe, harp and percussion.Strings re-enter in a dense recall of the 'swarming' from the beginning of thework, which now hurtles to its curt but decisive conclusion.
Composed in memory of the Polish musicologist and criticStefan Jarocinski (1912-80), Grave is subtitled Metamorphoses for cello andpiano. First given in Warsaw during April 1981, the piece was arranged forthirteen solo strings the following year, a version first heard at the FestivalEstival in Paris that August. Jarocinski was renowned for his knowledge ofDebussy's music, Pelleas et Melisande above all, and Lutoslawski opens histribute with a quotation from the initial forest scene of that opera. Cello andstrings pursue a moodily intense dialogue, opening out in robust rhythmicexchanges before a sustained cadenza passage ushers in the spectral, ambivalentclose.
After the completion of his Third Symphony in 1983, Lutoslawskisought a new formal continuity in what he termed the 'chain' process ofoverlapping musical ideas so that the beginning and ending of each isdeliberately blurred. Three such pieces were composed over the next threeyears, Chain 1 being a commission from Michael Vyner for the fourteen playersof the London Sinfonietta, and given its first performance in London duringJuly 1983. Three distinct stages are apparent: first, a sequence of capriciousgestures for the instruments, solo and as members of the ensemble; second, themelding of these gestures into progressively longer melodic lines, notably forcello, flute, violin and trumpet, and fuller textures, culminating in a compressedchordal sequence and ending with tam tam and cymbal strokes; finally, a briefevaporation of tension and texture in the manner of several earlier works.
The eight Children's Songs are from a total of 45 such songsthat Lutoslawski wrote between 1947 and 1959, intended to fulfil a social needrather than merely conform to the dictates of Socialist Realism during thefirst half of that period. All eight are to texts by Julian Tuwim (1894-1953),long considered the 'Polish A.A. Milne'. The two first songs date from 1948.The Belated Nightingale is a whimsical lullaby, touchingly scored, while AboutMr Tralalinski is a good-humoured nonsense rhyme. The remaining six songs alldate from 1947. Dance has a cheeky rhythmic profile, while The Four Seasons isof a gently melancholic strain. Kitten has the feel of wistful domesticity,complemented by the jauntier tread of Grzes is going through the village. ABrook emphasizes the melodic gift that Lutoslawski pursued in waltzes, tangosand foxtrots written during the 1950s and early 1960s under the pseudonym'Derwid'. The Bird's Gossips then rounds off the sequence in unaffected highspirits.