• Edward Gardner on Lutosławski’s Symphony 4

I’ve just caught up with last Friday’s ‘Afternoon on 3’, which included a broadcast of (what I take to be) Edward Gardner’s forthcoming CD recording – with the BBC SO on Chandos – of Lutosławski’s Symphony 4 (1988-92). Unfortunately, the BBC’s ‘play it again’ technology has no sustaining power out here in the sticks (thanks, BT!), so it’s a halting, interrupted soundscape for me for the present.

Gardner’s series of Lutosławski recordings has been wonderful so far: fresh, vital, insightful.  This performance fulfilled my high expectations: a searing opening section, followed by a great sense of motility, and a measured yet edgy lyrical build-up to the final climax.  I’ve not heard as desolate a fall-away as here.  The BBC SO’s playing is top-notch and Chandos has achieved an exemplary textural clarity.  This third CD – which also includes the early Symphonic Variations, Lutosławski’s own orchestration of the Variations on a Theme of Paganini, and the Piano Concerto – is due out in the New Year.

In his discussion with Katie Derham beforehand, Gardner gave a succinct and helpful description of ‘aleatory’ as it applies to Lutosławski’s music, and what it means for the conductor, although it’s worth noting that most of Symphony 4 and of other late Lutosławski is conducted traditionally.  Gardner also had a fascinating if unexplored take on the structure of Symphony 4.  Lutosławski conceived of it as having two movements, played without a break. I hear it more as a fantasia masking a radical reconfiguration of the composer’s characteristic structural landmarks and procedures.  Gardner hears it differently again: “You can hear four pretty distinct movements actually.  You can hear a wonderfully chaos-to-form opening, a dance movement, a slow movement and a finale, I think.”  It will be interesting to see how Gardner’s approach on the CD bears out this new perception.

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