Witold Lutosławski – Chain II: Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra (1984)

Krzysztof Bakowski, violin
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice)
Antoni Wit, conductor

I. Ad libitum
II. A battuta
III. Ad libitum
IV. A battuta – Ad libitum – A battuta

After the crowning achievement of his Symphony No. 3, Witold Lutoslawski searched for new forms to explore. He had spent much of his career working to perfect the single-movement symphonic form, but by the mid-1980s, his attention had shifted toward chamber music and the solo voice. He had, in fact, composed his Partita for violin and piano in 1984, and in that piece had developed new means for sustaining melodic lines with sparse textures and harmonies that were more suitable for a chamber setting. The opportunity to write something for the phenomenal Anne-Sophie Mutter no doubt served as inspiration for Lutoslawski’s Chain 2, dialogue for violin and orchestra, composed just a year after the Partita. Apart from featuring the violin, however, there is little resemblance between the two pieces, a remarkable fact considering their chronological proximity.

Chain 2 takes its title from a technique Lutoslawski had developed earlier in his career, but which had preoccupied him in the 1980s. The notion of the “chain” derives from the overlapping of distinct materials. For example, a phrase launched by the violin may be picked up in midstream by woodwinds, while the violin then drops out. Then another instrument may enter playing something new, and so on. In this way, the musical flow is perpetual, and new elements can be continuously introduced. In essence, this chain technique is a form of counterpoint, but extends a considerable relational freedom, including the possibility for simultaneous tempi, an innovation Lutoslawski was happy to explore. However, this technique does not form the main focus of the whole piece. Instead, Lutoslawski created four distinct movements, the first and third being related, and the second and fourth also bearing a resemblance to each other. The chain technique is most prominent in the first and third movements, which are both performed as a structured ad libitum. In Lutoslawski’s music, this means that while the music is fully notated, the conductor does not keep time, but cues the entrances for the different players, who then proceed at their own pace outside of any metrical divisions. This allows the violin soloist, in particular, to perform freely, as if in a cadenza, able to give full expression without needing to be precisely synchronized with the orchestra. The opening movement is indeed rhapsodic in character, followed by a lively, scherzo-like second movement. The third is slow and deeply lyrical, while the finale is brilliant and quick, as one might expect.

While exploring new means of shaping his music, Lutoslawski also looked back tothe Baroque, to the concerto tradition shaped by Corelli, Vivaldi, and perhaps Mozart. The tone is certainly lighter than a Romantic concerto, and in Chain 2 this is underscored by the chamber orchestra. Indeed, compared to his intensely dramatic Cello Concerto from 1970, Chain 2 is a paragon of balance and refinement.



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