December 2005

Lutoslawski - Twenty Polish Christmas Carols; Lacrimosa; Five Songs
Soloists, Polish Radio Chorus; Polish National Radio Symphony (Katowice); Antoni Wit, conductor
Naxos 8.555994
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski lived such a long life (1913-1994) that one should not be surprised that his compositional style varied from the beginning of his career until its end. The carols on this CD come from 1946, a period in which folk music found its way into most of Lutoslawski’s compositions. The work was originally scored for voice and piano; it premiered that way in 1947. In 1985, the composer arranged 17 of the carols for soprano, female chorus, and chamber orchestra. Four years later, he added the remaining carols to this orchestral set. In 1990, Susan Hamilton, the Scottish Philharmonic Singers, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra gave the premiere of that version, which is the one heard on this recording. For that event, the singers used a special English translation. This CD offers the original Polish texts.

The radiant music is tonal and easy on the ear. It ranges from pastoral, lyrical expression ("Holy Lady Mary") to jubilant joy ("Hey! We Rejoice Now"). The scoring is delicate and transparent, with an ear to good balance between singers and instrumentalists. The performers on this CD seem exactly right. The women chorus members have lovely tone, and the orchestra members play with style and Úlan. Antoni Wit knows the music of Lutoslawski well, having recorded more than eight CDs of the composer’s orchestral music for Naxos. He is right on the mark with these carols.

The disc is filled out with the 1937 Lacrimosa for soprano, chorus, and orchestra and the 1957 songs for soprano and 30 solo instruments. The latter is more acerb and demanding of the listener than the earlier music. The recorded sound is superb, with ideal balances. Everything is clear, yet has a warm glow, like a beautiful gift topped off with just the right bow. The only complaint -- there are not complete English translations for each carol, just a description.