This year we celebrate the hundredth birthday of Polish composer Witold Lutosławski, and his compatriot Krystian Zimerman returned to Poland to play his Concerto for Piano as part of the Warsaw Autumn festival. He premiered and recorded the concerto under Lutosławski’s supervision a quarter of a century ago, and the piece was dedicated to him.
Two decades later, Zimerman has gained a whole new understanding of this work. Back then, the artist was confronting a new score. Now, the music is for him a reflection of Poland’s history under General Jaruzelski during the years 1981 to 1983, when Lutosławski wrote the concerto.
The most striking aspects of Zimerman’s performance were the emotional outbursts, the sustained tension, and the amazingly nuanced dynamic contrasts, not to mention his compelling manual skill. Not one finger mistake was heard, even though a bruise forced Zimerman to change his usual fingering. What made this interpretation extraordinary was the physical power of Zimerman’s touch, especially the extreme intensity in his treatment of the work’s dramatic peaks. The artist seems to have achieved a synoptic view of the score in order to realize it fully, as if he knows the secrets of Lutosławski’s art.
There was no intermission before the performance of Third Symphony, also by Lutosławski. This was not a disappointment, but it did not leave as strong an impression as the Concerto for Piano, probably because the opening lacked fluidity and narrative strength. The work’s conclusion was distinguished by a mounting tension of great emotional power.