Witold Lutosławski

Lutoslawski's Last Concert

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This is not a re-creation of the last concert conducted by Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, but a recording of his actual last appearances conducting his own music, in Toronto on October 24, 1993, a few months before his death. As a live recording it's quite good; the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) sound is clear, and crowd noise is restricted to some nice applause at the ends of pieces. Apart from the fact of Lutoslawski's appearance as conductor, the album is noteworthy for its program; the earliest work, Chain 1, was composed in 1983, when Lutoslawski was 70, and the entire group focuses to an unusual degree on the composer's late style. Toward the end of his life Lutoslawski restricted, but did not discard, his trademark aleatoric (chance) techniques, putting them to very specific uses within a strict framework of intervals and motives. Chain 1 and Chain 2 represent what the composer called his chain form, in which the music defines two processes (his word is "strands") that overlap and wrap around each other like the links of a chain (or perhaps a braid). All these works follow similar procedures; they define a sequence of intervallic events that are brilliantly set off by the orchestration and are likely to be apparent even to general listeners. Lutoslawski's influence has been great; American and British symphony concert programs are full of compositions that try to do what Lutoslawski does here, but don't do it as well. The Partita (tracks 1-5) is based on an earlier Lutoslawski chamber work and features a more conventional five-movement form, with two ad libitum movements in Lutoslawski's more familiar manner. The song cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables is based on poems by Robert Desnos (1900-1945), a poet who died in one of the Nazi concentration camps Lutoslawski narrowly avoided. Non-Francophones will be hampered here by the lack of texts, even online. The instrumental works, however, are worth the time of anyone interested in Lutoslawski; they're mostly available on other recordings, but Canada's New Music Concerts Ensemble crisply responds to Lutoslawski's direction and gives the music the structural clarity it needs.

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