Classical CD Reviews

LUTOSLAWSKI Vocal Works: Chantefleurs et Chantefables; Les Espaces du sommeil; Paroles tissees; Sleep, sleep; Lacrimosa; Silesian Triptych – Lucy Crowe, sop./ Toby Spence, tenor/ Christopher Purves, bar./ BBC Sym. Orch./ Edward Gardner – Chandos

Chandos continues its highly-regarded Lutoslawski series…

Published on September 28, 2012

LUTOSLAWSKI Vocal Works: Chantefleurs et Chantefables; Les Espaces du sommeil; Paroles tissees; Sleep, sleep; Lacrimosa; Silesian Triptych – Lucy Crowe, sop./ Toby Spence, tenor/ Christopher Purves, bar./ BBC Sym. Orch./ Edward Gardner  – Chandos

LUTOSLAWSKI Vocal Works: Chantefleurs et Chantefables; Les Espaces du sommeil; Paroles tissees; Sleep, sleep; Lacrimosa; Silesian Triptych – Lucy Crowe, soprano/ Toby Spence, tenor/ Christopher Purves, baritone/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Edward Gardner  – Chandos 10688, 67:40 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Most people are not nearly as familiar with the works of Witold Lutoslawski (1913-94) as they should be; found in this amazing corpus are an astonishing number of pieces that, even though some found birth in the avant-garde, communicate to an infinite degree a significant amount of warmth and humanity that is not that difficult to access. Even in his more difficult pieces the communicability level is very high, and it doesn’t take a lot of listening before one is able to apprehend it. Even Brahms was considered problematic in some quarters at one time. Of course a lot of chaff was created in the 1940s-1980s (and still is) but like any time period of music history there are some real gems to be found, and Lutoslawski is responsible for a goodly number of them.

What those who know the composer but don’t know him well might not realize is how much effort he devoted to choral music. Lots of songs, chorus pieces, and orchestral/choral works were created between the years 1930 and 1990, and they are of a wide stylistic variance. Indeed, upon hearing the Silesian Triptych from 1951 about the trials and tribulation of love, one might guess the music was by Khachaturian or even a member of Les six. Soviet realism did have an impact at that time, and as history shows the results were generally fairly pathetic, but the genius of our composer was able to supersede any doubts and produce a work of color and brilliance for soprano and orchestra.

His Lacrimosa for the same forces dates way earlier (1937) and is the only surviving remnant of a requiem that was never completed, the only sacred work in Lutoslawski’s output. Its pathos and melodic ecstasy is very affecting and show us what we missed. When Penderecki and Goercki emerged after the oppression of the post-war decade, Lutoslawski was free to let his imagination soar, and at this point he adapted the twelve-tone method, not doctrinally but in a way that best became him. Paroles tissees (“Woven Words”) is a highly electric piece in four “tapestries”, a dream-like sequence with natural musical connotations that enable the composer to follow his dramatic instincts. The small orchestra is used with great discretion, strings, piano, and harp, to give an exquisite recollection of sleep, dreams, and even death. It was dedicated to tenor Peter Pears.

Sleep, sleep is the third piece of four for chamber orchestra and soprano (1954). It’s a children’s lullaby/cradle song typical of the composer’s work for children, easily accessible and masterly in its nighttime evocation. With Les Espaces du sommeil (“The Spaces of Sleep”) on poetry by the French surrealist Robert Desnos we reach one of Lutoslawski’s seminal works; this three-part piece echoes Bartok and Szymanowski in its use of the orchestra as a punctuating force that adds emphasis to the words being sung, some of the most atmospheric music the composer  ever wrote. The piece is dedicated to and was premiered by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

The disc concludes with another masterwork, Chantefleurs et Chantefables (“Song-flowers and Song-stories”) for soprano and orchestra. The nine delectable miniatures harken back to Ravel and the tradition of French song and especially children’s verse, again by Desnos, who this time is in a lighter mood in his creation of individual fairy tales in short. Though this is one of the last of the composer’s works (1990), here he reaches back in time to his days of carving out melodies ever-so-suggestive of the texts at hand, and uses a lifetime of orchestral manipulation to form yet another modern masterpiece.

The soloists on this album, especially Lucy Crowe, who seems born to sing the music, are all wonderful, and Edward Gardner elevates the performance tradition of Lutoslawski’s music to a new level. Superb music, superbly performed and recorded makes a most desirable release.

—Steven Ritter




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