One of the few blessings of enforced self-isolation is the gift of time to listen undisturbed to long stretches of music. In a hectic rush in a normal week from one date to the next, one might easily push the Lutoslawski symphonies to the back-burner. Now, listening carefully brings rewards that I failed to remember from past live hearings.
The 3rd symphony of 1983 opens with a chord that could have been by Beethoven, except that instead of announcing a major theme it unveils a twittering of impressionistic noises, midway between Debussy and Boulez. The composer knows where he is going but he’s determined to play hide-and-seek with our imagination, challenging us to guess what comes next. It’s never boring and sometimes illuminating. More than most composers, he makes you listen for the unexpected.
The 2nd symphony of 1966 plays games with the orchestra and conductor, offering them a range of choices that could lead to a total dead-end. The primary parallels are with Bartók’s night music and Ligeti’s creepy-crawlies, but the beauties of nature keep pushing back the flutters and the fears. This is wonderful music, expertly performed by Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Listen to it on a dark spring night. With the lights out.
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