LUTOSLAWSKI: Symphony No. 1 / Chantefleurs et Chantefables (Antoni Wit/ Olga Pasiecznik/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554283)
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Symphony No. 1
Witold Lutosławski remains among the mostdistinguished Polish composers, by the side of his close contemporary AndrezjPanufnik, in the generation after Szymanowski and before that of Penderecki andGorecki. Lutosławski was born in 1913 intoa family of some intellectual distinction. His mother, a mathematician by earlytraining, was a doctor and his father Jozef, once reputedly a pupil of Eugend'Albert, like his brothers, a man of culture and of strong patrioticinstincts. The dangers of German occupation in the war of 1914 led the familyto take refuge in Russia, where Jozef and his brother Marian fell early victimsto the Bolsheviks. In 1919 Lutosławskireturnedwith his mother and older brothers to Poland, eventually settling in Warsaw,where he was able to develop his musical abilities. Here he studied the violinwith a former pupil of Joachim and in 1927 entered the Junior Conservatory, fromwhich school-work later compelled him to withdraw. He was able, however, tostudy composition with Witold Maliszewski, a former pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov inSt Petersburg, and to continue with the same teacher when, in 1933, heabandoned his university study of mathematics to enter the Conservatory. Duringhis years there he began to make a name for himself as a composer, with what helater regarded as his true professional debut in 1939, with the performance ofhis Symphonic Variatians.
The war brought inevitable difficulties and hardships, after theinvasion of Poland by Germany in the autumn of 1939 and the subsequentpartition of the country with Soviet Russia. Serving as an officer cadet, Lutosławski was taken prisoner, but managed to escape andmake his way to Warsaw, where his mother had moved, while his brother Henrykfell victim to the Red Army. In the following years he collaborated withPanufnik, playing a wide repertoire of music for piano duo in cafes and othermeeting-places. Much of this store of compositions and arrangements accumulatedfor this purpose was destroyed in the Warsaw uprising. At the same time hebegan work on his Symphony No. 1, the first movement of which occupiedhim intermittently between 1941 and 1944, when it was completed. The otherthree movements were eventually finished in 1947.
In the years that followed, Lutosławskiwas tosome extent overshadowed by Panufnik, a situation that ended when the latterchose to take refuge abroad from a regime that he found repressive. Lutosławski too experienced problems with the Communistmusical establishment and his new symphony was condemned as"formalist" the charge leveled in the same year against Shostakovich,Prokofiev and others in Russia. His reaction to censure came in a series ofsafer compositions, although he himself described works of the period, whichmade use of folk material, as a necessary stage in his development, in no waythe result of political pressure. Nevertheless, it was necessary to earn aliving. The later relaxation of cultural policy brought increased contact withcontemporary trends abroad and a growing international reputation for Lutosławski, in addition to the unassailable position henow held in Polish music at home and which he maintained until his death in1994.
's Symphony No.
1 is scored for a full orchestra that includes a large percussion section, withtam-tam, tubular bells, xylophone and celesta, a harp and a piano. The firstmovement opens boldly, soon to introduce a rhythmic trumpet theme. A secondsubject, heard first from the lower strings, provides a lyrical contrast. Thematerial is developed, leading to a formal recapitulation and coda. In the slowmovement an extended figure unwinds in the lower strings, to which the Frenchhorn adds a poignant melody. Violins and violas introduce a quirkyaccompanimental figure, leading to an oboe melody. A solo violin takes up aderivative of the first theme and after increasing dynamic tension, elements ofthe principal theme are heard, as the movement draws to a close, the texturedarkened by a solo viola. Pizzicato double basses, imitated by thecellos, open the Allegretto misterioso. This bizarre scherzo material,initially using the twelve semitones of the octave in a repeated series, issoon followed by something akin to a contrasting trio and the movementcontinues with a contrast and collaboration of these two elements. A rapid andenergetic finale ends the symphony, its tension relaxed briefly before the end.
The composer regarded the symphony as marking a closing stage in his career ina musical language that seemed unlikely to lead anywhere. Now he sought a newapproach to the organization of his musical material.
The Silesian Triptych, for soprano and orchestra, was completedand first performed in Warsaw in 1951. The three folk-songs are tonal incharacter, admirably suiting their texts. In the first song, marked Allegronon troppo, the girl hears the lark but laments her parting from her lover,who has deserted her for another. The second of the set, marked Andantequieto, is delicately scored, its texture coloured by the harp and thecelesta. For the singer the well-water seems to regret the faithlessness of herlover. The song ends with a wordless vocalise. The Triptych ends with anAllegro vivace, as the cuckoo sings and the girl warns against marryinga rich girl. She has wealth enough in her virginity and her Sunday clothes.
Jeux venitiens ('Venetian Games') was commissioned by the conductorAndrezj Markowski for the 1961 Venice Biennale. Scored for a relatively smallorchestra, the work marked a new stage in Lutosławski's development as a composer, influenced now by the chance hearing of abroadcast of John Cage's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. The newtechnique now involved an element of chance, with considerable freedom given tothe players, who were nevertheless controlled by the constraints of timings andthe order in which aleatoric sections should be played. This aleatoriccounterpoint became a feature of Lutosławski's style. Here thefirst of the Games makes use of a series of given sections, identifiedby the first eight letters of the alphabet and to be played in that order, thelength of each section determined by the conductor. The second part opens witha subdued texture for violins and violas to which other instruments add theirown interruption. Other instruments are added and r??les reversed, before adynamic climax in which clusters of piano keys are depressed by the use ofcardboard cylinders covering a range of notes, black and white. The third partis a flute solo of some freedom, accompanied by the other instruments, with thestrings providing a more or less measured element. There is again an element ofchance in the final part, although its sections are strictly timed andcontrolled by the conductor. Tension mounts in an increasing welter of sound,before percussion leads to a more delicate texture, as a piccolo heralds theclose of the work.
For his song-cycle of 1991, Chantefleurs et Chantefables, firstperformed in London in the same year, Lutosławski again turned to poems by the French surrealist RobertDesnos, whose words he had used in his 1975 Les espaces du sommeil, forDietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Desnos died of typhus in Terezin (Theresienstadt) in1945. His Chantefleurs et Chantefables had been written for children ofhis friends and part of the collection later to be published had been given tohis publisher bef