"If I had to recommend one CD as a Lutoslawski starter kit for a new listener, this would be it. For a double CD, it's inexpensive. It has works from the whole range of Lut's compositional periods and styles. And it has absolutely top notch musicians, orchestras, and conductors. The one draw back on a few selections is sound, since the recordings are older, but the sound quality is never poor, just not state of the art. Lut's 3d Symphony is, for me, his greatest masterpiece, an endlessly thrilling and mesmerizing work, combining his aleatory (chance)techniques with more planned symphonic gestures. The effect is a combination of passages of mysterious, faery-like beauty with other passages of powerful drama and force. And here you get Lut conducting. He is a great conductor of his own work, giving everything a snap and liveliness that even devoted, world class conductors like Salonen can't quite match.The Concerto for Orchestra is Lut's masterpiece from the earlier period when was still a largely tonal composer. It's a great work, proving that Lut's greatness later isn't just a matter of fancy techniques, but of a fine ear and sense of form, in whatever style he chose to work in.The Cello Concerto is a great drama, a powerful commentary on the fate of creativity under the repressions of the Soviet system (Poland was an iron-curtain country at the time).These recordings of Espaces du Sommeil and the Double Concerto have, respectively, the greatest male vocalist (Fischer-Deiskau) and the greatest oboist (Holliger) in the world, and Lut gives them music to display their full talents. Fischer-Deiskau puts a superb voice tone at the service of a great dramatic sense. Holliger plays lyrical passages and passages of "extended technique" equally well. What more is there to say. Of all modern composers, Lutoslawski is perhaps the most endlessly delightful, though it takes sometimes several listenings before someone new to Lut can appreciate what he's doing, since he's also completely original. I hope people will give this CD a try, and experience the great pleasure that Lutoslawski can give."
One of the Great Composers
Scott Spires | Prague, Czech Republic | 02/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I rank Lutoslawski as one of the 3 greatest composers of the past half-century (the others are Ligeti and Carter). His genius lies in his ability to write music that makes use of the most advanced modernist techniques, yet remains emotionally accessible and vividly dramatic.This Philips duo is packed with excellent performances of great music. The 3rd Symphony (my single favorite work) is an amazing rollercoaster of a piece, marked by wild aleatoric episodes, fierce orchestral conflagrations, and a strong but very idiosyncratic sense of symphonic development. The Concerto for Orchestra is every bit the equal of Bartok's, while the Cello Concerto, with its starkly dramatized depiction of struggle between soloist and orchestra, is quite unlike any other concerto I've heard. There are other goodies here, including the wild "Venetian Games", one of Lutoslawski's most radical pieces.As noted, the performances are generally excellent, and the composer is a first-class conductor of his own work. The liner notes are unfortunately skimpy. Still, at the 2-for-1 price, there's no reason not to get this. And if you respond to this music, there's plenty more: try Salonen's recordings on Sony, or the very fine (and cheap!) Lutoslawski series on Naxos."
Best introduction to a modern master, a superb compilation
R. Hutchinson | a world ruled by fossil fuels and fossil minds | 09/05/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Lutoslawski's music sounds to me like an early modern sensibility moving to incorporate more recent techniques. The two earliest pieces here are both superb -- "Concerto for Orchestra" (better than the Bartok piece by the same name!) and "Dance Preludes" from the early/mid 1950s. Following the post-Stalin thaw, Lutoslawski made contact with the West, and the two works from that initial encounter, "Funeral Music" (for Bartok) and "Venetian Games" are perhaps the highlights of the disc -- resolutely modern music that, again, maintains the accessibility of Bartok or Stravinsky. I don't find the "Cello Concerto" of 1970 compelling, but the "Concerto for Oboe, Harp & Chamber Orchestra" of 1980 is brilliant.
"Symphony No. 3," finished in 1983, is widely considered to be Lutoslawski's masterpiece, but I am not convinced. Similar structurally to his "Symphony No. 2" (avoid!) and his "String Quartet," but better, most of the work is development, but it never seems to develop into anything very noteworthy. Lutoslawski was trying too hard to be radical in these works, while his strength was in carrying on in a less radical style with light touches of serialism and later developments. Though Lutoslawski himself was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, the original recording of the Third Symphony included on this disc is nowhere near as good as the performance just a month later by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. Look for the Sony disc of Lutoslawski's Symphonies No.s 3 & 4 (see my review). Another set worth checking out is called Lutoslawski: Orchestral Works, Songs; String Quartet, a recent 2-disc release in EMI's GEMINI series (see my review).
The range of fantastic music on this disc alone reveals Lutoslawski's level of accomplishment among the late 20th century greats."
A portrait of the great Polish composer
Crt Sojar Voglar | Ljubljana, Slovenia | 08/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Witold Lutoslawski has rightfuly reached the position as one of the great masters of the 20th century music. His compositions are always presented with the composer's unique sense of beauty of tonal colour and pitch organisation which never turns out to be just pure mathematics. An artist should NOT be scientist or philosopher. Just a pure artist with heart, ideas and musical invention, that's all. Even if Lutoslawski would not write anything else but the Concerto for orchestra, this magnificent, monumental work is one of the best orchestral works of the 20th century. Although many people describe the Concerto as the composition with Bartok influences, I do not find so many relations between these two works. Lutoslawski has such unique orchestral colour and is much more radical than Bartok. The most radical works such as Venetian Games show the composer's taste for "sounding" but it is the weak point in his opus. It took Lutoslawski some time to rediscover himself. The Cello Concerto, Double Concerto and Third Symphony are excellent proof. Cello Concerto is a unique dialogue between soloist and orchestra, while Double Concerto is perhaps too "plural" to become a masterpiece and it lacks the certain stylistic point. Third Symphony is a true masterpiece and constantly surprises the listener with its ideas. The symphony also has a great organic development, good contrasts and modern beauty of melodies."
Crt Sojar Voglar | 07/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Lutoslawski is easily one of the best post-war composers I have yet to encounter. As other reviewers have commented, I did find it difficult to fully appreciate some of these works on the first listen. The entertaining and original "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" is probably the most accessible, but only vaguely hints at the drama and power of the later works. I was first drawn to the "Concerto for Orchestra", which, although mostly tonal, still provides ample evidence of Lutoslawski's originality. The remaining works, except for the "Dance Preludes", are definitely written in a modern style, often using techniques such as chance, twelve tone rows, and microtones (or at least I'm pretty sure I hear them, at least in the Cello Concerto). The Cello Concerto contains an interesting series of events between soloist and orchestra, supposedly representing individual and society. Les Espaces du Sommeil is a setting of a 20th century French poem (inexplicably not included in the liner notes) that is vividly brought to life by Lutoslawski's music. The Oboe/Harp Concerto is another excellent work, which, like much of the music, I found somewhat dreamlike and having slightly Oriental flavor. Probably the most monumental work is the Symphony no. 3, which I found somewhat difficult to listen to at first, because the introduction is very jarring. However, after a sufficient number of listens, I found it to be excellent, and its brilliant finale is definitely not to be missed. I look forward to hearing more of Lutoslawski's music."