• 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’.

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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)

• 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.

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