Beethoven Symphonies/Skrowaczewski – 1

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.2 in D, Op.36
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

Symphony No.2 recorded in June 2005 in Grosser Sondesaal des SR, Saarbrücken; Symphony No.3 recorded in January 2005 in Kongresshalle, Saarbrücken

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: January 2006
OC 522 (2 CDs)
Duration: 82 minutes

A new Beethoven symphony cycle – one on modern instruments with a senior maestro (Stanislaw Skrowaczewski was born in Poland in 1923) – and maybe at something of a crossroads as to the best way to approach this music. Like Toscanini, Furtwängler or Klemperer, maybe; or akin to what we term ‘authentic’ performance; perhaps as a hybrid of these first two possibilities; or simply by finding your own way while being aware of the range.

Skrowaczewski is his own man and seems as vital and energetic as ever – his dashing account of the first movement of Symphony No.2 is swift without ever being forced or hectic (accents bite though); freewheeling but poised, lithe textures vividly caught by the microphones. The Larghetto has both lyrical depth and a dance-like point; Skrowaczewski’s tempo gives the music time to breathe, the strings have a modern beauty rather than an ‘antique’ pallor. The scherzo has its minuet character underlined in Imperial style (the trio is integrated without pause or tempo fluctuation, and the finale is very quick while remaining articulate; Skrowaczewski has the knack of ensuring that Beethoven’s ‘song’ has blossom and that rhythms have buoyancy – toe-tapping is nearer the mark. This is a performance that may not be especially revelatory but it is also uncommonly fine – at once reassuringly familiar yet new-minted and exhilarating.

Initially, as the first release, the plan seems to have been for Oehms to issue symphonies 3 and 4 in tandem; numbers 2 and 3 don’t fit either! (Actually they do, for an 82-minute-plus-a-few-seconds CD is technically possible and, in my experience, they play perfectly well. I hope Walkman usage isn’t the reason!) This is a “special price” release though (which really should mean 2-for-1), and an Oehms catalogue is included, but what a shame that Symphony No.1 isn’t also here – what a triptych of symphonies, the classical, breaking-free First, the pivotal Second, and the boundary-breaking Eroica.

The musical equivalent of gunshots opens the Eroica, Skrowaczewski’s tempo is bracing and the movement develops fierily; propelled, yes, but not metronomic and there is also a yielding quality that allows changes of character their due import. The funeral march (initiated by an intense oboe solo) has real gravitas and seems to carry the burdens of the world while offering consolation – just as it should be, but which seems to happen less now than hitherto: a further reminder that Skrowaczewski belongs to a ‘grand tradition’, something further displayed by his half-speed (then slower!) summation in the finale that cuts right through ‘period’ niceties. The coda is joyous rather than frenetic.

Both renditions are beautifully proportioned, punctiliously prepared (the clarity of the string parts, aided by antiphonal violins, is testimony to this), played with devotion and also with a spontaneity that belies the hard-working preparation. The Eroica is live (applause excised), and the Second seems like an unedited studio account; both are tangibly recorded, the orchestra a little fuller-sounding in the Eroica, as befits it, probably due to more strings than in No.2 and, of course, a change of venue to one more resonant.

This release begins a journey that should be worth completing; not with the Choral though, for that is the next release!

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