Chicago SO / Daniel Barenboim
BARTOK's was subtler - but the young Lutoslawski put on a cracking good show with his Concerto for Orchestra of 1954. Not that he takes much pride in it now. Music from another life, he calls it: folkloric, colouristic, blatantly 'functional'.
Well, yes, it functions exceedingly well. A little too eager to please, perhaps; a shade obvious in its formal devices, its polarisation of childlike fantasy and muscle-bound rhetoric - but it offers rich pickings for an orchestra this good.
Moving on almost 30 years, the Third Symphony is an altogether more unlikely crowd-pleaser - but that it is. The secret of success here lies in the fascination of seemingly intangible detail as it gradually acquires form. Form comes suddenly in an unexpected meno mosso theme of epic sweep. There's even what sounds to be the start of a Brucknerian coda with poetic overlapping horns - the new Lutoslawski glimpsing his past? In the closing bars, tuned percussion scorches a path into a future where both works may yet prove to be his biggest money- spinners. ES
WHAT exactly is a Concerto for Orchestra? Bartok's amounts to a virtual unnamed symphony, while neither of Tippett's nor Elliott Carter's is quite the flamboyant virtuoso showcase that the title suggests. And when it comes to Lutoslawski's, with its imposing gangland opening, its shimmering scherzo and its hugely varied 'Passacaglia, Toccate e Corale', the label seems all but meaningless.
Bartokian in part, it's both a significant statement and a stylistic cul-de-sac. Lutoslawski's latter-day discovery of fresh creative potential corrupted memories of his more regressive early Concerto. Although undoubtedly 'of our age', the Third Symphony shares with its predecessor relative accessibility and a distinctive tonal palette. Cast in two subdivided movements, it's a dazzling, aphoristic catalogue of contrasting effects that gains in expressive intensity the further you venture into it.
Bartok is out of earshot, yet echoes of his darkly scurrying 'night music' remain distantly audible. Barenboim's interpretation is perceptive and exciting in part, but hasn't quite the 'grip' of Antoni Wit or Esa- Pekka Salonen, both of whom are, in their different ways, more arresting. RC
AMERICAN WIND MUSIC by Barber, Fine, Schuller, Harbison, Beach, Villa-Lobos
Reykjavik Wind Quintet
(Chandos CHAN 9174)
IT couldn't sound much less appetising: an Icelandic quintet espousing American music for wind. But I'll give you two, possibly three, good reasons for investigating. When it's this well executed, Samuel Barber's Summer Music is about as magical as a wind quintet can sound, a world of daydreams and children's games in Thornton Wilder country. Then there's Amy Beach's home-baked Pastorale - a mere nightcap after the Barber, but the perfect foil to John Harbison's Quintet. Harbison is the born dramatist, not to say extremist, here. His protagonists boldly go where it's uncomfortable to go: a Bergian waltz gets ugly in lower registers, tongues flutter surrealistically, and the horn almost leaves the planet with a clinching glissando.
The rest comes and goes. Irving Fine engages in a neo-classicism redolent of Stravinsky; Gunther Schuller manages a Blues, amusing in its unbending formality, and when he isn't kicking up the dust with his folk tunes, Villa-Lobos is as seductive as ever. ES
HERE'S music to engage both brain and senses, an uncluttered menu that's strong and varied enough to leave you eager for more. Barber's Summer Music and Harbison's Quintet for Winds are the real peaches, although Irving Fine's Stravinskian Partita has an atmospheric coda that's reminiscent of Copland at his most profoundly simple.
Schuller's sparkling Suite features a central Blues but very little else here is overtly 'jazzy'. Certainly Amy Beach's balmy Pastorale isn't; neither, strictly speaking, is Villa-Lobos's freewheeling Quinteto em forma de choros. Barber's piece is less overtly colourful than Villa-Lobos's, but more involving. Superficially languid, even mercurial, Summer Music soon reveals itself as tautly argued and full of quiet-spoken drama, while Harbison's action-packed Quintet travels deeper than one initially expects. An engaging musical aviary, then, beautifully performed and superbly recorded. RC