Lutosławski – The Four Symphonies – Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic [Sony Classical]

0 of 5 stars

Fanfare for Los Angeles Philharmonic
The Four Symphonies

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Esa-Pekka Salonen

Recorded in Los Angeles – 30 November-2 December 2012 in Walt Disney Concert Hall (Fanfare & Symphony 1), November 1994 in TODD-AO Scoring Studio (Symphony 2) and in Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in November & December 1985 (Symphony 3) and November 1993 (Symphony 4)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2013
88765440832 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 46 minutes



The Fanfare makes for a gloriously cacophonous opening to this release – its recipients, the LA Philharmonic’s brass and percussion members, tearing into its 50 seconds with gusto. This, one of Witold Lutosławski’s final works, from 1993, he died the following year, is followed by Symphony No.1, completed in 1947. It’s a folksy, witty and vibrant piece, compact in each of its four movements, reaching for the stars in the energetic opening Allegro giusto, and then finding a Bartókian soul in the relatively extended Poco adagio. The scherzo is both syncopated and shadowy, each bar engaging, and the finale scintillates with the bravura of a young(ish) composer relishing his confidence and many flights of fancy, teasing and delighting the listener.

This year marks Lutosławski’s centenary. He was born on 25 January 1913. His four symphonies span his creative life, but are not the whole story. After what is the very approachable and appealing First Symphony, the Second (1966-67) is much more of a challenge. In two movements, ‘Hésitant’ and ‘Direct’, totalling nearly half-an-hour, the first movement seems episodic through the continuous introduction of new sections, each one beguiling though, and demonstrating the composer’s fantastic gift for colour and texture. There is a sense of mounting tension, of speculation becoming proposition, and the second movement follows without a break, a rich cluster of string timbres added to by brass, before the music takes off in an explosion of activity before freezing and then descending to dark wastes.

Lutosławski’s music was often long-gestated and always painstakingly notated. His canon of works is select for scrupulous and rigorous craftsmanship. The 30-minute Third Symphony (1972-83), written for Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is a masterpiece that opens arrestingly with a bookending and recurring four-note motif. The score buzzes with the most-engrossing incident, and whether pregnant preparation, developmental dynamism, savagely climactic to deeply-felt reflection and then building to an emphatically triumphant coda, this is music that is always going somewhere and stands as a lofty example of thoroughbred and totally personal symphonic thinking.

The Fourth Symphony (1993), also in a single movement, if ten minutes shorter than its predecessor, is a compact and economical creation, with similar procedures to No.3, and mixes dark brooding with the composer’s trademark filigree and colour. It suggests ‘last rites’ and hindsight knows this to be the case. Anguish seems a particular emotion that is omnipresent, whether in intense lines or in punchy fast passages. It’s an approachable work, a distillation of earlier experimentations, refined, assured, occasionally whimsical, and for all its accessibility, it’s also a work that one wishes to return to, for there seems many intriguing aspects under the surface to get to know.

These are fabulous performances – Esa-Pekka Salonen is devoted to Lutosławski’s music and the LA Phil is a superb orchestra – that are splendidly and vividly recorded, and further enhanced by Steven Stucky’s generous and illuminating booklet note.

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