Lutoslawski: Orchestral Works, Vol 1 - Gardner

Lutoslawski: Orchestral Works, Vol 1 - Gardner

Chandos  CHSA 5082

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra, Symphony No. 3, Chain 3

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)

Edward Gardner, the music director of English National Opera and an exclusive Chandos artist, has completed the first disc in a projected Chandos series devoted to Polish music. Also his first purely orchestral CD for Chandos, the disc presents music by one of Poland’s most important twentieth-century composers, Witold Lutoslàwski, including perhaps his most famous work, the Concerto for Orchestra (1950 – 54), a brilliant and highly attractive work.

Also included is the Third Symphony (1981 – 83) which was given its world premiere by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Georg Solti, on 29 September 1983. Many passages employ the by then well-developed technique which the composer called ‘limited aleatorism’, according to which each individual orchestral musician is asked to play a phrase or repeated fragment in his own time – rhythmically independent of the other musicians. During these passages very little synchronisation is specified: events that are coordinated include the simultaneous entrances of groups of instruments, the abrupt end of some episodes, and some transitions to new sections. By this method the composer retains control of the work’s architecture and of the realisation of the performance, while simultaneously facilitating complex and unpredictable polyphony.

In later years Lutoslawski developed musical forms that combine unrelated strands of music, whose short, discrete sections overlap one another like the links of a chain. Elements of this method can be found in many of his earlier works, but the first to emphasise it was Chain 1 of 1983 for fourteen instruments, written for the London Sinfonietta. Chain 2, subtitled ‘Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra’, followed in 1985. The last work to adopt this approach was Chain 3 (1986) for large orchestra. Broadly speaking, the composition’s ten minute span falls into three sections, of which the first provides a particularly clear, readily audible example of the chain technique. After a quick opening flourish, Lutoslawski presents a sequence of twelve overlapping ideas, each characterized by a particular mode of expression, and each vividly coloured by a few instruments playing as a unit. For example, chimes, violas, and flutes together form the first ‘link’; this is overlapped by a quartet of double-basses; these in turn overlap a xylophone and three violins, and so on. The last of the twelve links in this musical chain thicken into a kind of general babble among the winds, which marks the first stage in the work’s larger form. Chain 3 was written for the San Francisco Symphony which gave the first performance, conducted by the composer, on 10 December 1986 in Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco.

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Broggio - February 23, 2018

The opening of this series is every bit as rewarding as those that follow it.

Whether it is the 3rd symphony, Chain 3 or the Concerto for Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner deliver deeply committed and passionate accounts. Lutoslawski's 3rd symphony opens the disc and is a half-hour long seamless work whose sections are marked by 4 repeated unison E's. Written for Sir Georg Solti and his Chicago orchestra, the work teams with the energy associated with that partnership; Gardner and the BBC SO produce a very passable imitation of the electricity that flowed through so many of Solti's performances and all parties have clearly "lived" this music. Perhaps in the last resort, they do not quite convince they have made the music their own.

The same virtues are then carried over into Chain 3 but perhaps the most impressive performance here is that of the Concerto for Orchestra (the earliest work on the disc by some 30 years). There are echoes of Bartok's more famous precedent and, at this time, Lutoslawski shared a similar approach to composition as many of the greats of the twentieth century, carefully incorporating folk music into their art form. The quasi-Mendelssohnian scherzo is deftly played by the BBC SO and Gardner points up Lutoslawski's contrast of the outer filigree with a much more sombre central section. The finale comprising of a Passacaglia, Toccata and Chorale is no less impressive under Gardner's baton; the tension of a well-trodden "darkness into light" journey, is vividly realised and the BBC SO gleam in the closing bars.

The Chandos recording and notes are well up to their usual standard; the Assembly Hall in Walthamstow providing a familiar acoustic halo to the proceedings in which the engineers manage to reflect the detail timbres of the Lutoslawski in a natural way.


Copyright © 2018 John Broggio and


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