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Witold Lutoslawski - Concerto for Orchestra, I-II

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Published on May 15, 2011

Concerto for Orchestra (1950-1954)

I. Intrada
II. Capriccio, Notturno e Arioso
III. Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale

L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Paul Kletzki

With the close of World War II, the musical life of Poland experienced something of a renaissance, in which Lutoslawski played a significant role. After marrying in 1946, however, he was forced to spend much of his composing time creating "functional" music -- music for theatre and film, children's songs, and arrangements of folk and popular tunes -- to support his growing family. His more serious works encountered resistance from the Stalinist regime in Poland; his First Symphony (1947) was banned for a time for "formalism."

Partly as a result of his own interest and partly due to the influence of the cultural commissars, Lutoslawski turned to folk music for inspiration in many of his works of the late 1940s and early 1950s. This was the case with the Concerto for Orchestra, which was commissioned by conductor Witold Rowicki, to whom the work is dedicated, who wanted a new composition for his recently created Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra (founded in 1950). Written over a five year span, the Concerto was premiered by Rowicki and his orchestra in Warsaw on November 26, 1954. Lutoslawski called the Concerto "the only serious piece" among his folk music inspired works.

The influence on Lutoslawski's Concerto of Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra of just a few years before is hard to ignore. The themes in both works are folk-like and attractive, their settings employ some dissonance but are still accessible, and the manipulation of the orchestra in both cases is highly virtuosic. There are other more specific similarities, too, like the arch-form (a form Bartók used often) of Lutoslawski's first movement and the chorale theme of his third movement, which is virtually a quotation of the chorale theme from the second movement of the Bartók work.

The Lutoslawski Concerto is in three movements. The lively opening Intrada is built on a repetitive, pounding F sharp from the timpani and basses, over which short melodic phrases (apparently derived from a popular melody from Mazovia) multiply. Gossamer textures open the second movement, Capriccio notturno e Arioso. The Arioso opens with a trumpet fanfare, and turns stormy before the darker-textured return of the opening Capriccio theme. The final movement, Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale, is longer than the first two combined. The quirky bass line of the Passacaglia supports a series of variations that become increasingly ominous and grandiose. After the Passacaglia theme quiets and ascends into the upper reaches of the orchestra, the Toccata takes a variant of that theme and whips up considerable excitement. The Corale, with its evocation of the Bartók Concerto, begins sedately, but also builds up steam as the theme is passed around within the orchestra. The coda builds from a rumbling piano to a grand fanfare and ends brilliantly, again in a manner reminiscent of Bartók's work. [allmusic.com]

Art by Pierre Fichet

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