• WL100/60: Cello Concerto, **14 October 1970

On this day in 1970, Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto was premiered in London’s Royal Festival Hall by Mstislav Rostropovich and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Edward Downes.  The work was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society (the first post-war commission to a foreign composer) with funds from the Gulbenkian Foundation.  The work was repeated on the following nights in Bournemouth and Exeter.

The first half of the programme consisted of Balakirev’s symphonic poem Tamara and Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto, followed in the second half by Borodin’s Second Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme. Lutosławski wrote in the RPS’s copy of the programme: ‘with my warmest thanks for this unforgettable experience’. In a letter to his Danish publisher, he wrote: ‘Rostropovich is unique and played it as if it were his own work’.

Homma 1993 4

Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto is now the most recorded post-war cello concerto after the two by Shostakovich.  At the latest count, there have been 16 commercial recordings (11 of them since Lutosławski’s death), with at least two more in the pipeline.  There is also more than a handful of recent concert performances available on YouTube and other platforms.  In this centenary year, it looks as if the Cello Concerto will be his most frequently performed work.  It is a remarkable compliment to Lutosławski’s extraordinary music.

Here are the links to the current uploads of complete professional performances:

• Felix Fan/RTVE SO/Adrian Leaper (2002)
• Nicolas Altstaedt/Finnish Radio SO/Dmitri Slobodeniuk (2007)
• Silver Ainomäe/Finnish Radio SO/Dmitri Slobodeniuk (2007)
• Oren Shevlin/WDR SO/Jukka-Pekka Saraste (2011)
• Alexander Baillie/Boston PO/Benjamin Zander (2012)
• Kian Soltani/Helsinki PO/John Storgårds (2013; link broken by mid-December 2013)
• Paul Watkins/BBC SO/Thomas Adès (2013)

• Lutosławski Cello Concerto: more videos

In the eighteen months since I posted a review of (then) existing videos of Witold Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (4 December 2011), there has been a flurry of further activity, especially in 2013.  The latest to come to my attention is a recording by Kian Soltani (born in 1992), who played the concerto to win the final of this year’s Paulo Cello Competition in Helsinki.  This competition takes place every five or six years and several exponents of the Lutosławski have been prizewinners on previous occasions, including Oren Shevlin (1996), whose YouTube recording from 2011 I thought very highly of in my earlier post, Rafał Kwiatkowski (2002), who went on to record the concerto for DUX in 2005, and Nicolas Altstaedt (2007), who has been one of quite a few cellists to have included it in this centenary year (Warsaw and Stavanger).

As I’m currently deep in the final stages of my book on the Cello Concerto, I’m afraid I don’t have the time to review all the recent uploads, so here is just a list of what’s newly available.

Promotional videos

2013 marks two anniversaries: Lutosławski’s centenary and the bicentenary of the Royal Philharmonic Society.  The RPS commissioned Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto in 1966 and to mark these events Tom Hutchinson from the RPS made a short video to coincide with a performance of the work on 7 March by Truls Mørk and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen.  Hutchinson discusses some of the correspondence and press reviews of the premiere by Rostropovich, the Bournemouth SO and Edward Downes at the Royal Festival Hall on 14 October 1970.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg1YQDFTFMY  (uploaded 7 March 2013)

The British cellist Alexander Baillie talks about the piece in advance of his performance of it with the Boston PO under Benjamin Zander on 23, 25 and 26 February 2012.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHP-VMrR0zs  (uploaded 23 February 2012)   
see below for url for vimeo of Baillie’s performance on 26 February 2012

The conductor of the Boston PO performances, Benjamin Zander, gave a pre-concert talk on the concerto (with the orchestra) on 26 February 2012.  He has some perceptive observations to make about the orchestration but unfortunately is occasionally loose with the historical facts.  It’s posted in two sections.


Audio recordings

Miklós Perényi was the second cellist to record the Lutosławski (with the Budapest SO under György Lehel on Hungaroton), but his version from 1975 has never been transferred to CD.  It is a fascinating approach (the opening D naturals are 2/3rds of the suggested speed – c.40 crotchets/fourth notes per second instead of c.60), yet overall the performance is one of the shortest.  Perényi has also been playing the work for longer than most – he performed it in Katowice on 25 January this year, the 100th anniversary of Lutosławski’s birth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4xlRmhNXJI  (uploaded 26 December 2012)

There’s also an audio of the first half of the concerto by young Polish musicians: Michał Zieliński (cello), the Orchestra of the Fredyryk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, conducted by Michał Smigielski.  Bizarrely, it stops partway through the Cantilena (just before fig. 74).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pil13C2RpiQ  (uploaded 4 November 2011)


Alexander Baillie (see above for his promotional video) played the concerto as part of the Boston PO’s 2011-12 season, under Benjamin Zander (see above for the vimeo of his pre-concert talk).  It’s a shame that the titles are presented over the opening of the concerto, so that it’s more than a minute before we get a sight of Baillie.  The vimeo is in three parts.  Part 1: up to fig.38 (the Introduction, the first two Episodes and almost, but not quite, to the end of Episode 3); Part 2: from fig. 38 (through the Cantilena and on into the Finale) up to fig.88 (just before the cello’s ‘sigh’); Part 3: from the ‘sigh’ to the end.


There are three performances from the Paulo Cello Competition:

Nicolas Altstaedt‘s performance of the concerto was uploaded in three sections in 2010, but as I discussed on 4 December 2011 there was a frustrating visual-audio time-lapse in the second and third instalments.  These have now been taken down, though the first instalment is still there (it covers the solo introduction and the first two Episodes).  Now the same uploader has posted the performance in a single video, technical problems sorted.  It comes from Altstaedt’s participation in the 2007 Paulo Cello Competition, with the Finnish Radio SO, conducted by Dmitri (Dima) Slobodeniouk.  It is fiery and passionate and must have been absolutely electrifying in concert.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIxvBjP7ld8  (uploaded 9 March 2013)

Silver Ainomäe, who was also a prizewinner at the Paulo Cello Competition in 2007, also played the Lutosławski concerto, likewise with the Finnish Radio SO under Slobodeniouk.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVqx2uUls54  (uploaded 4 February 2013)

Kian Soltani‘s performance at this year’s Paulo Cello Competition was given on 27 April, with the Helsinki PO conducted by John Storgårds.  The video is available on this site only until 24 October 2013.


A much earlier concert took place in Madrid on 18 January 2002, when Felix Fan performed the Lutosławski concerto with the Spanish Radio and Television Orchestra, conducted by Adrian Leaper.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdoW0q81F24  (uploaded 12 January 2013)

There are also two video performances by young American musicians now on YouTube:

Tyler Borden, University of Buffalo SO, conducted by Daniel Bassin, on 1 March 2013.  There is also an unrevealing ‘conductor cam’ version from stage left … (second url below).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rs1XklVcJI  (uploaded 1 March 2013)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DVEksYh2PQ  (uploaded 13 April 2013)

The Swiss cellist, Frédéric Rosselet, joined the University of Southern California SO, conducted by Carl St Clair, for this performance on 14 March 2013.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVEsCl9hb18  (uploaded 28 April 2013)

• Different and Indifferent

I was not going to write anything today, the anniversary of Witold Lutosławski’s death nineteen years ago.  That evening, I recall going into a BBC studio in London and taking part in a quite substantial (45-minute?) tribute along with John Casken and Charles Bodman Rae.  The following day, I was already scheduled to fly to Warsaw, where I was able to attend Lutosławski’s funeral just over a week later.

I have just experienced, however, a bizarre acoustic phenomenon, courtesy of Polish Radio 2 (counterpart to BBC Radio 3).  It was a live performance from its Witold Lutosławski Studio, as part of the Lańcuch X (Chain 10) festival, of his Cello Concerto.  Nothing strange in that, you might think.  But this was an experimental rethinking by a group of seven Polish musicians in which the orchestral parts were shared between two pianists, two percussionists and two people involved with live electronics, and  the cello soloist Andrzej Bauer.  Bauer has long been a powerful advocate of the Cello Concerto (he performed it under the composer’s baton and his later interpretation on the Naxos label is among the best).  Bauer has also been at the forefront of reinterpreting Lutosławski, notably in his Lutosphere project with the jazz pianist Leszek Możdzer and the DJ m.bunio.s.  Here’s a sample of Lutosphere, based on the theme from the first movement of Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra.


On this occasion, Bauer played the straight man to the other five musicians.  He played the solo part ‘as is’. Borrowing the titles of the two movements from the Second Symphony, the ensemble prefaced the ‘Direct’ Cello Concerto with a ‘Hésitant’ improvisation that excluded the soloist.  This raised all sorts of questions regarding the meaning of the cello’s repeated indifferente D naturals with which the concerto begins.  Instead, here there was a back story, as it were, in the shape of some 25 minutes of largely unrelated material.

‘Hésitant’ began with a sustained D, which disappeared after a few minutes.  In a series of waves, with two main climaxes, the ensemble gathered pace, volume and density, then evaporated, plunged the registral depths and regained the heights some 20 minutes later in cloudbursts of excited activity.  Much of this was treated electronically, along with prepared piano sounds and other percussive effects.  On air, it wasn’t always clear where the boundaries lay between acoustic and electronic sound sources.  The improvisation was imaginative and exploratory.

The soloist’s open repeated Ds emerged from the dying embers of ‘Hésitant’ and ‘Direct’ had begun – four minutes of solo cello.  I was interested to hear how the ‘arrangement’ of the orchestral parts would work.  This had been done by the composer Cezary Duchnowski, who had also prepared the ‘electroacoustic sound layer’.  Sadly, at least over the internet, the experiment failed more than it succeeded.  The main problematical area was how to match the precision and sonic impact of live orchestral instruments.  Maybe it was better in the hall, but the ‘wind’ textures were often muggy and the ‘brass’ timbres consistently feeble.

The trumpet intervention at Fig.1 was anything but the ‘angry’ intervention of Lutosławski’s original.  Subsequent brass interruptions, especially those at the end of the four Episodes, were plain limp, so Lutosławski’s concept of drama through music never properly materialised.  Even the highly expressive coming together of cello and strings for the concluding passage of the Cantilena was timbrally mismatched.  The fiercest interruption of all, at the beginning of the Finale, was without any bite, volume or density whatsoever.  You can imagine, therefore, that there was no real confrontation as the Finale progressed, no rhythmic edge.  I already feared that the hammering orchestral chords at Fig.133 would not do the job of crushing the soloist.  They didn’t even come close.

I wish that I could report otherwise, as I was looking forward to this with great excitement.  As I said, it may have been different in the hall, where the sound diffusion may well have created a much stronger impression of the arrangement.  But it is surely not beyond the bounds of technological potential to reconfigure the orchestral parts – but not necessarily to ape them – so that the cellist has a real sonic opponent, something to play with and against. As it was, he was far more alone than the composer intended.  Whether Lutosławski would have approved of this revised sound-world I’m not sure.  In any event, I think he would have wanted it to have had more ‘orchestral’ impact and immediacy than was evident on air tonight.

• 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.

• Proof-reading bloopers (BBC Music Mag)

Where’s a musically literate editor when you need one?  Here’s a panel from the September issue of the BBC Music Magazine, where Paul Watkins is interviewed in advance of the release of his recording with the BBC SO under Edward Gardner of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto and Grave (Chandos CHSA 5106).  I spotted the glaring transcription error (line 6), but my friend John Fallas spotted the funnier typographical one (line 9).  Depressingly sloppy copy.

IMG_0686 copy

• 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.

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