Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

An excellent start to a new Polish orchestral series

From January 31, 2011:


This new Chandos CD provides three important works by one of the 20th Century's most important composers. There's a great deal of cleverness evident in the Concerto for Orchestra, written in the early 1950s, a virtuoso showpiece modelled after Bartok's work. More cleverness was required to disguise some quite radical musical ideas as "social realism" for his political masters. Lutoslawski's Third Symphony, written for Solti & the Chicago Symphony in the early 1980s, is probably the composer's masterpiece. The Third Chain, written later in that decade, is slighter in scope but not in effect.

Gardner and his orchestra are at their best in the Symphony and Chain III. They're not quite hitting all of the virtuoso highlights of the folk-inspired Concerto for Orchestra, though the playing is still of a very high calibre. Both of the later works make use of aleatory, the introduction of chance into a musical work. Though Lutoslawski nails down pitches and rhythms, he gives the orchestral musicians the freedom to play sections of the piece in their own time.

This provides us with unexpected combinations of sound, which a multi-channel recording has the potential to expose to us more explicitly. Actually, I can see the advantage of really cranking this up, exaggerating the separation between instruments of the orchestra, even if it results in a less than accurate reproduction of the concert-hall experience. As it happens on this disc, the Chandos engineers have spread out the orchestra, but not at the expense of atmosphere and musical coherence. I expect to listen to this CD often, letting these often surprising sounds wash over me. And I look forward to other discs in Gardner's new series of Polish orchestral music.

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