Lutoslawski - First and Last Symphonies

I've never felt especially drawn to the music of Lutoslawski, despite having heard him described as one of the best composers of the 20th century. I remember listening to albums on which a bunch of stuff happened that apparently didn't register much. Here however is a new release that has opened my ears more than a little. It helps that the recording is so vivid, revealing the colors and inner workings of these very detailed, supercharged scores. Even streaming on headphones it sounds great, and in surround you are there, in the hall standing next to the conductor Hannu Lintu, who has the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra playing at maximum finesse. The first symphony (1947) inhabits a busy post-Bartok world, starting out at full tilt. It risks being too much, but it's growing on me despite not being as emotionally deep as it is densely entertaining. However the fourth symphony (from 1992), ending this disc, is on another level, and Lutoslawski's endlessly inventive orchestration helps the music go to much darker places. One particularly memorable section is like a face-smearing grief that feels sadder each time I hear it. It's an absorbing work. In between the first and last symphonies is "Jeux vénitiens" from 1961, which passes by at first glance like a series of abstract paintings, brief movements in a terse modern mode that didn't do much for me at first but grow more colorful and interesting on each listen. Hearing these three major pieces gives a sense of the places Lutoslawski went as a composer: the beginning, the middle and the end. But I might be assuming. Hopefully there will be another disc with the second and third symphonies, because I'm starting to get Lutoslawski's music now, or at the very least enjoy it.

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