W. Lutoslawski, 1988 (Photo by PAI-Foto.pl / ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Modernism for the many

​​Lutoslawski: Concerto for Orchestra, Partita &c (Ondine)

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There was a time not long ago when György Ligeti and Witold Lutoslawski were the twin standard-bearers of audience-friendly modernism in western concert halls, so much so that many went home convinced that the future of music was located somewhere along a plumb line dropped from the Baltic to the Balkans.

That prophecy might still hold true, but the mystery is what has happened to Lutoslawski. Whilst his Hungarian contemporary is widely performed, the Pole has weirdly receded, falling behind his compatriots Penderecki and Gorecki. When did you last hear Luto’s compelling third symphony or, indeed, the concerto for orchestra that made his name on first hearing in 1954?

It requires an orchestra of fearless soloists, and that’s what you’ll find in Helsinki

This performance of the Concerto by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra is the most gripping in years. Pieced together from folk-tunes, as was obligatory in late-Stalinist society, the instrumental showcase is, if anything, more ear and breath catching than Bartok’s signature work. It requires an orchestra of fearless soloists, and that’s what you’ll find in Helsinki. The conductor, Nicholas Collon, is a wokeish faddist who makes English orchestras play standing up and without scores in front of them. The Finns won’t tolerate any such nonsense. This is hard-core musicianship, no baton hostages taken. “Bring Back Luto Now” is my slogan for 2024.

The Partita was written 35 years later for Pinchas Zukerman with piano accompaniment, later orchestrated for the benefit of Anne-Sophie Mutter. It has so much in common with the third symphony you wonder why it needs a solo violin squeaking above the stave. The dialogue of individual and society is soon apparent, though. If there is no integral winner, the totalitarianism that Lutoslawski endured is the obvious loser. Christian Tetzlaff is the splendid soloist here.

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