• Total Immersion: Henryk Górecki

News_Image_BBC_SOThe Barbican Centre, London, has just announced its programme for 2015-16.  Among the events are three BBC Symphony Orchestra ‘Total Immersion’ days devoted to Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (3 October 2015), Louis Andriessen (13 February 2016) and Henri Dutilleux (30 April 2016).

The programme for the Górecki day covers chamber, choral and orchestral music.  I am particularly pleased to see the programme for the final event, when the BBC SO will be conducted – for the first time – by Antoni Wit, with a line-up of exciting soloists.  The programme is terrific: the UK premiere of Kyrie and the effervescent Harpsichord Concerto, framed by two rarely performed but characteristically gritty and luminous works from Górecki’s late 30s.  It will be quite a day.

• 11.00  Talk: ‘Henryk Górecki, Polish Pioneer’; given by me…
• 13.00  String Quartets nos 1 (1988) and 2 (1991); Silesian String Quartet
• 15.00  Film: Please Find Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (2012, dir. Violetta Rotter-Kozera); introduced by me…
• 17.30  Totus Tuus (1987), Four Preludes (1955), Marian Songs (1985), Church Songs (1986, selection); BBC Singers, conducted by James Morgan, pianist tba
• 19.00  Learning Project culmination
• 19.30  Old Polish Music (1969), Kyrie* (2005), Harpsichord Concerto (1980), Second Symphony ‘Copernican’ (1972); Mahan Esfahani, Marie Arnet and Neal Davies, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC SO, conducted by Antoni Wit; BBC recording co-presented by me…

[October 2015: the full programme notes are available here]

• New CD Note (Szymanowski vol.3/Chandos)

CHSA 5143

It’s ‘You’, not ‘I’.

The third volume of Edward Gardner’s Szymanowski CD series on Chandos has just been released.  It contains one of Szymanowski’s best-known compositions – the Third Symphony, The Song of the Night – alongside two earlier and lesser-known works, the First Symphony and the orchestral version of Love Songs of Hafiz.  It’s been a great privilege to have written the booklet notes for this and the preceding Lutosławski series.

This time, however, I received an additional request: would I make a new translation of the poem, by Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, that Szymanowski used in the Third Symphony?  The translation was not to be from the original Persian (fortunately!), but from Tadeusz Miciński’s Polish version, which was itself preceded by a German paraphrase. Chandos wanted an English translation that was as faithful as possible to the Polish.

This was quite a task for a non-poet and non-professional translator.  Occasionally, Miciński’s vocabulary can be prosaic.  The translation in the published score of The Song of the Night is by Ann and Adam Czerniawscy (1970). Their version of the two lines:

Targowiska już ucichły.
Patrz na rynek gwiezdanych dróg nocy tej!

reads as follows:

Thorough-fares on earth are silent.
There behold the starry roads of this night.

But even Czerniawski (a distinguished poet and translator) and his wife have had to draw a veil over the fact that targowiska and rynek are virtually synonymous and mean ‘marketplace’.  My version, for what it’s worth, stays as close as possible to Miciński:

The marketplaces have now stilled.
Look at the market square of starry trails this night!

The 1970 translation is beautifully poetic, but it has another curiosity.  As Miciński proceeds to name stars and constellations, he writes:

Andromeda i Merkury krwawo lśni nocy tej!

The Czerniawscy, again presumably to fit the scansion of Szymanowski’s vocal line, change this to:

Sagittarius and the Virgin blood-red gleam through this night.

I have restored the original names:

Andromeda and Mercury glisten blood-red this night!

The most surprising thing was to realise that no-one (including myself) has previously observed – at least in books or CD booklets – that Szymanowski made a change to the end of al-Rumi’s poem and Miciński’s translation.  (The Szymanowski authority, Teresa Chylińska, has included the change in her transcription, but apparently without comment.)  What Szymanowski did was to add a final extra line that had already appeared in the Symphony, early in the central section:

Ja i Bóg jesteśmy sami tej nocy!
I and God are alone together this night!

Szymanowski’s repetition is not all that it seems.  Crucially, he has changed the poet’s focus from himself to his Beloved.  ‘I’ becomes ‘You’.

Ty i Bóg jesteście sami tej nocy!
You and God are alone together this night!

I’m no literary analyst or philosopher, but it seems to me that this refocusing is radical.  It gives the final moments a quite different profundity than that of Miciński’s original.  This needs to be acknowledged, both in the scholarly and the wider public understanding of Szymanowski intentions in The Song of the Night.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for this new Szymanowski CDor you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• New CD Note (Szymanowski vol.2/Chandos)

CHSA 5123Eight months after its first Szymanowski CD with the BBC SO under Edward Gardner, Chandos has issued the second volume, combining two works from the composer’s ‘Polish’ period to go along with Louis Lortie’s brilliant recording of the Symphonie Concertante on vol.1.  Although I’ve not heard the new CD yet, I’m expecting equally fresh and vivid accounts of the Stabat Mater (1925-26) and the ballet Harnasie (1923-31), not least because of the addition of the BBC Symphony Chorus and an excellent raft of singers.  These include Lucy Crowe, who sings so beautifully on Chandos’s CD of Lutosławski’s vocal works (2011).

Here’s the link to my booklet note for this new Szymanowski CDor you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• New CD Note (Lutosławski vol.5/Chandos)

CHAN 5108-1Lutosławski: Orchestral Works IV is the fifth Chandos CD in the BBCSO/Gardner series.  I hope that there will be a sixth to include Livre pour orchestre (1968) and Mi-parti (1976) and a selection from Musique funèbre (1958), Jeux vénitiens (1961), Novelette (1979) and the Double Concerto (1980).  Then the series will have included all Lutosławski’s major symphonic and vocal pieces.  It’s been a fantastic series.  The first CD included the Concerto for Orchestra, which on Polish Radio was recently voted the best recording of this popular work.  I wrote an account of the programme discussion on 20 January: Gardner/BBC SO top Polish Radio poll.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Lutosławski: Orchestral Works IV, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• Gardner/BBC SO top Polish Radio poll

Yesterday afternoon (19 January), a Polish Radio panel chose Edward Gardner’s recording of Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra, with the BBC SO on Chandos, as its top recommendation for CDs of this much-recorded work.  This was no ordinary ‘Building a Library’ type of format, however.  This was an elimination contest based purely on listening, with no foreknowledge of who the performers were.

UnknownRadio Dwójka (PR 2) is Polish Radio’s cultural channel.  Every fortnight on Płytowy Tribunał Dwójki, a panel of three sits down to debate and vote on the best recorded interpretation of a selected work.  There is also a studio audience which gets its own vote.  It’s an intriguing format, one in which the panel puts its reputation on the line.  Last night, it consisted of the music critics and broadcasters Dorota Kozińska and Kacper Miklaszewski, and the conductor Wojciech Michniewski.  Jacek Hawryluk was in the chair.  Michniewski knew Lutosławski well, has conducted his music frequently, including sharing the conducting of Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux with the composer on the 6-LP boxed set of Lutosławski’s music issued by EMI in 1978.  He was a key figure in the Breaking Chains festival in London in 1997 and in 2001 recorded a CD of Lutosławski’s music on Accord.  But I digress.

The schedule for yesterday’s ‘tribunal’ on the Concerto for Orchestra was as follows:

• Round 1: Opening of I ‘Intrada’
• Round 2: Opening of II ‘Capriccio notturno ed Arioso’
• Round 3: Opening of III ‘Passacaglia’
• Round 4: Continuation of III ‘Toccata e Corale’

After listening to the ‘Intrada’ from all six unidentified recordings, two were eliminated at the end of Round 1, then one more each round until two were left in Round 4. The results were:

• After Round 1: the two recordings eliminated were both of recordings by the Warsaw Philharmonic.  The earlier recording was conducted by the man who commissioned the Concerto for Orchestra in 1950 and gave the premiere four years later, Witold Rowicki (Philips, 1964, first released on LP).  The second recording was more recent, conducted by Antoni Wit (Dux, 2005)

• After Round 2, the composer’s own recording from 1976/77 was eliminated (EMI, first released on LP in 1978).

• After Round 3, Mariss Jansons’s new recording with the Bavarian Radio SO (BR Klassik, 2011) got the chop.

That left just two recordings.  The panel had proved itself pretty much of one mind during the earlier eliminations, and so it proved here too.

• In Round 4, the runner-up was Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s recording with the London PO (LPO label, recorded live in 2008 at the Royal Festival Hall, London, released 2011).

• The winner was Edward Gardner’s recording with the BBC SO, recorded and released in 2010 on the first of Chandos’s much-acclaimed series devoted to Lutosławski (for which I’ve had the privilege of writing the booklet notes).


The studio audience also agreed with the panel about the top recording, but chose Lutosławski’s recording as the runner-up.  While the panel preferred the three recent versions to the older ones, I was pleased to see that Lutosławski’s powerful interpretation still made an impact.


If you’ve come across Hyperion’s recent release of Juliusz Zarębski’s wonderful Piano Quintet – played by Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet – you may be interested that Zarębski’s work also comes up before the Polish Radio 2 ‘tribunal’ in four weeks’ time, on Saturday 16 February.  Of course, no-one knows if the Hyperion CD will be among those under discussion (my guess is that it will), but I’ll keep you posted!


UPDATE! On 24 January 2013, Polish Radio 2 responded to this post with one of its own: Wyroki Trybunału komentowane w Wielkiej Brytanii (Verdicts of the Tribunal commented on in Great Britain).  When I posted on the Tribunal’s deliberations on Zarębski’s Piano Quintet, Polish Radio 2 responded again: Adrian Thomas po raz drugi o werdykcie Trybunału (Adrian Thomas for the second time on the verdict of the Tribunal).

• New CD Note (Szymanowski/Chandos)

CHAN 5115After four volumes of Lutosławski in its ‘Muzyka Polska’ series, with a fifth to follow shortly, Chandos has begun a new Polish strand.  New Year’s Day 2013 marks the issue of its first Szymanowski CD in the series.  The principal forces remain the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner.

I heard Louis Lortie’s recording of Szymanowski’s Symphony no.4 ‘Symphonie Concertante’ when it was broadcast on Radio 3 last November.  It fairly zinged along and the finale was the best that I’ve heard.  Also on this new CD are the early Concert Overture and Symphony no.2.

The front cover, if I’m not mistaken, shows the Tatra Mountains from the southern, Slovakian side rather than from a Polish vantage point that Szymanowski might have known.  The lake is Štrbské Pleso.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for this new Szymanowski CDor you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• New CD Note (Lutosławski vol.4/Chandos)

It’s been ten months since the release of the third volume of Edward Gardner’s Lutosławski series with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.  Now volume four has appeared, and it’s a cracker (for the first time in the series, the cover illustration comes from outside Warsaw – it’s Wrocław).  The preceding CDs were:

Orchestral Works: Concerto for Orchestra, Symphony 3, Chain 3
Vocal Works: Lacrimosa, Silesian Triptych, Sleep, sleep, Paroles tissées, Les Espaces du sommeil, Chantefleurs et Chantefables
Orchestral Works II: Symphonic Variations, Paganini Variations, Piano Concerto, Symphony 4

Lutosławski: Orchestral Works III opens with Little Suite (1950), a work whose spirited nature masks the subtlety of its language when most other Polish composers were buckling under the weight of socialist-realist expectations.  A decade and a half later, Lutosławski was wrestling with large-scale form in his Second Symphony (1965-67), which is given an exceptionally persuasive reading here.  The soloist on this CD is Paul Watkins, who not only plays the Cello Concerto (1970) – which must have easily surpassed any other concerto written since then in its number of CD recordings – but also Lutosławski’s orchestration of Grave for cello and piano (1981/82).

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Lutosławski: Orchestral Works III, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• Altstaedt plays Lutosławski

A couple of hours ago I heard an electrifying performance of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (1970) on BBC Radio 3.  It was by Nicolas Altstaedt, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Polish conductor Michał Dworzyński.  After digging around on the web for further information, I believe that this recording was made on 26 October 2010 in the BBC Maida Vale studios.  The dynamism as well as sensitivity of Altstaedt’s approach to this work is already in evidence on a three-part YouTube upload (see my post of 4 December 2011), but unfortunately the second and third parts are marred by dislocation between sound and vision.

Today’s performance was a couple of minutes longer than Altstaedt’s YouTube recording, but it lost nothing in its immediacy and intimate understanding of the composer’s dramatic concept.  Catch it if you can: it’s available for the next seven days only, via http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01blr2y#synopsis (click on Listen Now).  It begins two hours in.

I hope that there are plans for Altstaedt to record the Lutosławski commercially.  That really would be something to look forward to.

• New CD Note (Lutosławski vol.3/Chandos)

The New Year brings a new CD in Chandos’s Muzyka polska series.  It’s the third in Edward Gardner’s survey with the BBC Symphony Orchestra of the music of Witold Lutosławski.  The performances have been stunning for their clarity and fresh insights into the orchestral music of the Polish composer, whose centenary will be celebrated in 2013.  Word is already out that the next CD will include Symphony no.2 and the Cello Concerto, with Paul Watkins as soloist.  I can’t wait!

This third CD comprises Symphonic Variations (1938), Variations on a Theme of Paganini (1941/78), Piano Concerto (1988) and Symphony no.4 (1992).  The soloist in the two concertante works is Louis Lortie.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Lutosławski: Orchestral Works II, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

Happy New Year!

• 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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