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Lutoslawski: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 / Les Espaces du Sommeil

4.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 4, 1994
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Editorial Reviews

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Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) went through many changes in his career, but it was always in the service of his own style--which is, in the end, indescribable. This is an excellent disc that details some of the later transformations in Lutoslawski's thinking. The Symphony 4 (1992), which opens the disc, really highlights the composer's gift for melody, despite his atonal characterizations elsewhere. The work, while moving and dramatic, is extremely intense. Symphony 3 (1972-83) mixes tempos and interrupts moods constantly. Les Espaces du sommeil (1975) is a mixture of the concrete and abstract that creates an eerie, dreamlike scenario. This is one of Lutoslawski's masterpieces. --Paul Cook

Product Details

  • Performer: John Shirley-Quirk - Baritone
  • Orchestra: Los Angeles Philharmonic
  • Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Composer: Witold Lutoslawski
  • Audio CD (October 4, 1994)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sony Classical
  • Run Time: 68 minutes
  • ASIN: B000002AQ0
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,722 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
The first recording I heard of Lutoslawski's Third Symphony was the first, with Lutoslawski himself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in November, 1985. You can find it on The Essential Lutoslawski (see my review), an excellent 2-disc Philips set, and now on a 20C reissue (see my review). The Third was widely acclaimed as one of Lutoslawski's masterpieces, but I just didn't hear it. About three years later, I finally heard Salonen's recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, from just one month later, December, 1985 -- it is a much stronger, more biting, more convincing interpretation and performance. A clear lesson that composers are not always their own best interpreters! (So the four stars is for composition, not for conducting, performance or recording, all of which merit five stars.)

Lutoslawski's Third Symphony was commissioned by Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. When the Polish composer finally completed it after many years in 1983, Solti and the CSO premiered the work. However, the CSO didn't finally record it until 1992 after Daniel Barenboim had taken over. I consider the Salonen/LAP recording to be the best by a hair, with the Barenboim/CSO (see my review) close behind. The composer's own recording is fine, but lacks the sharp detail of the other two.

The Third opens dramatically with a staccato note repeated four times, similar in that sense, but not in tone, to Beethoven's Fifth.
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The 4th Symphony, Witold Lutoslawski’s final major work, is not only very beautiful, but it marks for me a return to the threshold the artist faced in the mid 1950s. At that time, Lutoslawski had just completed his Concerto for orchestra, a major post-1945 tonal composition which earned him some fame. As the title suggests, the Concerto is an extension of Bela Bartok’s famous work of the same name. It is obviously Eastern European in its roots, with folk music more permeating the compositional thinking than being a stylistic trait. It is also tonal and reasonably accessible. In the face of an assertive avant-garde musical culture which dominated this period, Lutoslawski after the Concerto transitioned into a personal adaptation of this avant-gardism. This personal adaptation was atonal with many aleatoric elements (performance that partly depends on chance). Although Lutoslawski, a major talent, bent this avant-garde language to his will and produced some impressive and significant music, I have always regretted that he didn’t explore the world that the 1954 Concerto for orchestra had pointed towards: more accessible, tonal, organically flowing from nationalist roots. I hear in the 4th Symphony, completed in 1992 by the 79-year-old composer, a “re-do”, an exploration of this path not taken.

The 4th is for me a spectacular work. The orchestration is absolutely ravishing. Always a gifted orchestrator, Lutoslawski has outdone himself. The textures are original and the sounds he coaxes from the orchestra are not just beautiful but expressively right. This orchestration isn’t joined to purely atonal writing. We have post-Bartokian (early Lutoslawski?) melodic writing here, much of it taking and interesting.
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Format: Audio CD
This Sony disc containing three works by Witold Lutoslawski is already something of a legend. It contains three world premiere recordings of some of his grandest pieces, interpreted by the L.A. Philharmonic and its acclaimed conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, with John Shirley-Quirk as baritone solo in the middle work.

"Symphony No. 3" (1983) was commissioned in the early 1970s by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but appeared only a decade later after several false starts. It lies in between two clearly defined eras of the composer's work, containing both the aleatorism of the 1960s and 1970s and hints of the return to accessibility of his late neoclassical phase. Nonetheless, each of these two tendencies is blunted so that they exist in great harmony, forming a piece that is quite different from his other works though unmistakably Lutoslawski. The score is precisely notated--there are no "wavy lines" here, but the element of chance is provided by a large series of "ad libitum" sections which are unconducted. I've always had a hard time hearing an overall form for this piece, which starts from a series of hammering E notes and then wanders off. The composer claims that it's got four sections, but I have a hard time hearing it. However, that does not mean that the Third is boring. The frustration of not being able to speak of the structure of the symphony makes it harder for me to communicate to readers here just how great it is. It might be a somewhat formless blog, but it is beautiful, and in the end when this formlessness suddenly takes on a very directed form towards a quasi-romantic finale and ends on the same hammering E's., it's stunning.
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