Stanislaw Skrowaczewski: The Complete Oehms Classics Recordings

Release Date: 11/19/2013
Label: Oehms
Catalog Number: OC090
Number of Discs: 28

Physical Format:

CD
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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski is one of those conductors who has been quietly making excellent recordings characterized by high seriousness and integrity, it seems, almost forever. He was one of the stalwarts of the old Mercury Living Presence catalog in the 1950s and 60s, and brought the Minnesota Orchestra into the international spotlight with his excellent series of recordings for Vox, featuring music by Ravel, Stravinsky, Bartók, and Prokofiev. His stint at the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester found him (on recorded evidence) less than inspired, but he has enjoyed a wonderful Indian Summer through his work with the German Radio Philharmonic at Saarbrücken and Kaiserslautern, amply documented here.

Skrowaczewski’s music making is all of a piece. He brings a modern composer’s care for rhythmic crispness and clarity of texture to everything he does. In this respect, he probably most closely resembles Pierre Boulez, only to be frank he is technically a much better conductor most of the time. His Bruckner cycle remains the modern reference recording for those works, and I have discussed the performances at length already. In Beethoven, there are some outstanding individual performance, notably Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4. Elsewhere, some listeners might feel that Skrowaczewski’s emphasis on transparency robs the music of some of its dynamism, as at the first movement recapitulation in the Ninth. However, there is no questioning Skrowaczewski’s ability to realize his conception of each work, and the middle symphonies, Nos. 5-7, certainly don’t lack for excitement or passion. The cycle overall is heard to best effect here, in the context of Skrowaczewski’s work more generally.

His Schumann symphonies are just plain excellent all around; here is music that really responds to the approach, and the conductor does not hesitate to make subtle adjustments to the scoring for the sake of textural clarity, as in the first movement of the “Rhenish” Symphony (sound clip). Skrowezcewski recorded the Brahms symphonies in Hallé, not too interestingly to be honest, but now he has added an extra jolt of energy to his already impressive grip on Brahms’ symphonic process. The results can be thrilling, as they are in the finales of both the First and Fourth symphonies (sound clip), while the two middle symphonies have a cogency that can’t be denied. Perhaps the Third is a bit on the slow side, but this is still some very solid, but never stolid, Brahms.

Skroweczewski has always been an outstanding Bartók conductor, a composer who exercised a huge influence on is own original music. These versions of the Concerto for Orchestra and Divertimento are excellent. The Berlioz belongs squarely to the “analytical” school of interpretations–think Markevitch–but as we all know that does not preclude a powerful listening experience, and it doesn’t here. The two Chopin piano concertos offer few opportunities for the conductor to characterize the music, but he manages to do it very tellingly, and no one has recorded them more often than Skrowaczewski. Remember, he already made them with Arthur Rubinstein and Alexis Weissenberg, and in Ewa Kupiec he has a very strong soloist. These are performance of great distinction, as CT.com’s Jed Distler pointed out in his review of the single-disc release: warm, intimate, and infinitely nuanced.

Finally, Oehms offers a disc of Skrowaczewski’s own music. As I mentioned, Bartók is a big influence, especially his “night” music mode, and all three works accordingly offer meditations on the idea of darkness or night. Aside from Bartók, the music seems to dwell squarely in the Polish modern school of, say, Lutoslawski. Music at Night (1949) has four brief movements and the title says it all. The Fantasie for Flute and Orchestra, beautifully played by soloist Roswitha Staege, is also subtitled “Il Piffero della Notte,” and provides the soloist with the opportunity to display an exceptional expressive range. Finally, the Symphony of 2003 is a memorial tribute to the composer’s friend Ken Dayton. It features a “presto tenebroso” central scherzo, and much of it, as you might expect, is elegiac in tone. The idiom can be difficult, but the scoring is consistently ear-catching, and the expressive point always clear.

The packaging of these 28 discs has a few uneconomical points. Beethoven’s Second Symphony gets a disc all to itself, as do the four Brahms symphonies, but the budget price offers significant compensation. The sonics are uniformly excellent, although the recording levels vary from cycle to cycle, not too surprisingly. The booklet offers a moving and celebratory series of tributes to Skrowaczewski. The man has always been a class act, and if any artist deserves this sort of a birthday party, then he does. A great set.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
1. Symphony in F minor "Study Symphony" by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1863 ; Linz, Austria
2. Symphony no 0 in D minor, WAB 100 "Die Nullte" by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1863-1869 ; Linz, Austria
3. Symphony no 1 in C minor, WAB 101 by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1865/1891 ; Linz, Austria
4. Symphony no 2 in C minor, WAB 102 by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1872-1876 ; Vienna, Austria
5. Symphony no 3 in D minor, WAB 103 by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
6. Symphony no 4 in E flat major, WAB 104 "Romantic" by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1874 ; Vienna, Austria
7. Symphony no 5 in B flat major, WAB 105 by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1875-1876 ; Vienna, Austria
8. Symphony no 6 in A major, WAB 106 by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1879-1881 ; Vienna, Austria
9. Symphony no 7 in E major, WAB 107 by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1881-1883 ; Vienna, Austria
10. Symphony no 8 in C minor, WAB 108 by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
11. Symphony no 9 in D minor, WAB 109 by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1891-1896 ; Vienna, Austria
12. Overture in G minor by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1862-1863 ; Linz, Austria
13. Quintet for Strings in F major, WAB 112: 3rd movement, Adagio by Anton Bruckner
Period: Romantic
Written: 1879 ; Vienna, Austria
14. Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Period: Classical
Written: 1800 ; Vienna, Austria
15. Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Period: Classical
Written: 1806 ; Vienna, Austria
16. Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Period: Classical
Written: 1801-1802 ; Vienna, Austria
17. Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 "Eroica" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Period: Classical
Written: 1803 ; Vienna, Austria
18. Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Period: Classical
Written: 1807-1808 ; Vienna, Austria
19. Symphony no 6 in F major, Op. 68 "Pastoral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Written: 1808 ;
20. Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Period: Classical
Written: 1811-1812 ; Vienna, Austria
21. Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Period: Classical
Written: 1812 ; Vienna, Austria
22. Symphony no 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer: Annette Dasch (Soprano), George Zeppenfeld (Bass), Christian Elsner (Tenor), Daniela Sindram (Alto)
Period: Classical
Written: 1822-1824 ; Vienna, Austria
23. Symphony no 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 "Spring" by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic
Written: 1841 ; Germany
24. Symphony no 4 in D minor, Op. 120 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic
Written: 1851 ; Germany
25. Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 97 "Rhenish" by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic
Written: 1850 ; Germany
26. Symphony no 2 in C major, Op. 61 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic
Written: 1845-1846 ; Germany
27. Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Period: Romantic
Written: 1855-1876 ; Austria
28. Symphony no 3 in F major, Op. 90 by Johannes Brahms
Period: Romantic
Written: 1883 ; Austria
29. Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 73 by Johannes Brahms
Period: Romantic
Written: 1877 ; Austria
30. Symphony no 4 in E minor, Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms
Period: Romantic
Written: 1884-1885 ; Austria
31. Divertimento for String Orchestra, Sz 113 by Béla Bartók
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1939 ; Budapest, Hungary
32. Concerto for Orchestra, Sz 116 by Béla Bartók
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1943 ; USA
33. Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 by Hector Berlioz
Period: Romantic
Written: 1830 ; France
34. Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17: Love scene by Hector Berlioz
Period: Romantic
Written: 1839 ; France
35. Concerto for Piano no 1 in E minor, B 53/Op. 11 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer: Ewa Kupiec (Piano)
Period: Romantic
Written: 1830 ; Poland
36. Concerto for Piano no 2 in F minor, B 43/Op. 21 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer: Ewa Kupiec (Piano)
Period: Romantic
Written: 1829-1830 ; Poland
37. Music at Night by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1949 ; Paris, France
38. Il piffero dela Notte by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Performer: Roswitha Staege (Flute)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 2007 ;
39. Symphony "In memory of Ken Dayton" by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Period: 20th Century
Written: 2003 ;
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