Friday, 7 June 2013

11. Lutoslawski Paganini Variations

Witold Lutosławski

I doubt that Paganini anticipated just how popular his 24th variation for solo violin would become. A number of composers have composed their own variations on the theme, the most popular being by Rachmaninov and less familiar by Lutoslawski. This post will introduce you to an excellent recording of the Lutoslawski variations on a Theme by Paganini

Witold Lutosławski (1913–1994) was a Polish composer and orchestral conductor. This year marks the 100th year since his birth, so there is some renewed interest in his work. He originally wrote the Paganini Variations for two pianos in 1941 (See youTube performance below). He later updated the work in 1978 for piano and orchestra. If the music of Lutoslawski is unfamiliar to you, then this is a great place to start.
Admittedly, the Paganini Variations are not representative of Lutoslawski's style in general and much of his work is more dissonant and difficult to appreciate. This is a wonderful work nevertheless, full of excitement, fun and some unexpected turns and therefore well worth knowing. There is a fantastic recording played by Peter Jablonsky and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by fellow pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Witold Lutosławski Paganini Variations Peter Jablonski Vladimir Ashkenazy

The Paganini Variations are instantly enjoyable in large part due to the familiarity of the theme, but also to Lutoslawski's inventiveness. The variations progressively diverge from the original theme with exciting piano writing throughout. Some highlights include the chirping winds near the beginning. Chaos unfolds in the final moments with the theme taken over by the brass before the final orchestral whoops and mighty crash ending. Thrilling stuff and clocking in just under 9 minutes a wonderful, not too challenging, work to get to know. This is a steal at $0.99 on Amazon. Well worth having.

Links to the recording (track 5):

Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 - Lutoslawski: Paganini Variations - Peter Jablonski, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Vladimir Ashkenazy USA Store

Rachmaninov/Shostakovich/Lutoslawski: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini/Piano Concerto No.1/Paganini Vars - Peter Jablonski, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Vladimir Ashkenazy UK Store

Below is an excellent youTube video of Nelson Freire and Martha Argerich (featured in earlier post Tchaikovsky Piano concerto no.1), playing the 1941 version for two pianos.

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