Koukl Plays Lutosławski

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LUTOSŁAWSKI: Piano Sonata. Bukoliki (Bucolics). 3 Pieces for the Young. A Kiss of Roxanne. Winter Waltz. Folk Melodies. 2 Études. Inwencja (Invention), 2 vers. An Overheard Melody for Piano 4 Hands.* Miniature for Piano 4 Hands* / Giorgio Koukl, *Virginia Rossetti, pno / Grand Piano GP768

Giorgio Koukl, a pianist I admire nearly as much as the great Michael Korstick—both have fabulous articulation, a superb touch, and get to the emotional heart of the music they perform—pursues a more varied repertoire. As he once told me via email, “All the composers I like could be sitting around a Paris café c. 1930 talking about music and art.” In addition to Martinů, Kapralova, Tansman and Arthur Lourié, he now adds the name of Witold Lutosławski, a younger colleague and admirer of the great Karol Szymanowski. Yet somehow Lutosławski’s music still remains somewhat in the shadows while Szymanowski has finally, posthumously, received his just due.

This collection of Lutosławski’s piano works come primarily from new, corrected sources based on original manuscripts, including three pieces new to CD: A Kiss of Roxanne, Winter Waltz and the first version of Invention from an unedited Paul Sacher Foundation manuscript. This is especially true of the early (1934) piano sonata, which according to the notes Lutosławski wrote in pencil, providing “some very precise fingering, but when his wife Danuta subsequently overwrote the notes in black ink she omitted the fingering. Contrary to the composer’s wishes, the Piano Sonata was recorded for Polish Radio during the 1970s [he considered it over-Romantic, owing too much to Ravel and Szymanowski]. Furthermore, when it was finally published a decade or so after Lutosławski’s death, the printed edition was riddled with errors. Koukl has identified 73 of them, including the serious omission of one 16-bar passage as well as a number of other missing bars.” The only aspect of the sonata that I found too effusive was the (for me) overly-busy left hand, constantly running eighth-note passages beneath the already busy right-hand figures, but it is clearly good music if not in the composer’s mature style.

Interestingly, to my ears, Lutosławski’s mature style—heard in the Bucolics (1952) immediately following the sonata—also owes much to Szymanowski, but much less to Ravel. There’s also a bit of Bartók in it, particularly in the more insistent rhythms. The first of his Pieces for the Young is a blisteringly fast etude; I would never have been able to play this when I was young! A Kiss of Roxanne and Winter Waltz are fairly straightforward pieces, harmonically speaking, but still quite interesting.

The Bartók connection is even more strongly felt in the Folk Melodies (1945), and here Lutosławski introduces more irregular, asymmetric rhythms than even the Hungarian composer did in his own pieces. The two “Studies” for piano are absolutely remarkable pieces, and here Koukl plays with tremendous fire. Dating from 1940-41, they are bitonal works with hard-driving rhythms, which make the listener sit up and take notice. The two “Inventions” are also bitonal works, although rather quieter and somewhat strange in their form. An Overheard Tune, on the other hand, is a rather jolly piece, sounding very much like something Prokofiev might have written, and Miniature is a fascinating work which, like its predecessor, is written for piano four hands. In both of these, Koukl plays the second part to the young and evidently quite talented young pianist Virginia Rossetti, who matches Koukl phrase for phrase and accent for accent.

All in all, a very interesting album showing the wide range of Lutosławski in this, his small output of piano music.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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