Symphony No.1 in F minor, Op.10
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.54
Recorded 1 November 1996 (Symphony No.1) and 7 November 1997 in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: April 2004
CD No: HALLÉ CD HLL 7506
Duration: 61 minutes
One had assumed these to be brand-new recordings, made as part of the Hallé’s own-CD initiative. In fact these John Boyden-produced tapes are first issues of older material presumably intended for release on IMP Classics (Pickwick). Any pre-meditative thought that the several years’ delay might correspond with hearing ’reasons why’ is immediately banished with the confident trumpet solo launching the First Symphony. It’s a prelude to two outstanding performances, both mandatory for the Shostakovich collector.
Poland-born Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who turned 80 in 2003, is closely associated with the Minnesota Orchestra (Minneapolis when it recorded for Mercury). He also had a Hallé tenure from 1984-91. Good that he continues to work with the Manchester-based band; he conducted Bruckner 8 there recently and is due again. One recalls the mightily impressive Bruckner 4 that he recorded with the Hallé, which was issued on IMP; a similar focus and concentration is heard on this Shostakovich issue.
A word on the recording: superb! Engineer Richard Millard has lifted the orchestra of what can seem the Bridgewater Hall’s soggy acoustic (as broadcast, I’ve not experienced the place for myself); the Hallé is explicitly but not oppressively reproduced.
The performances are compelling, wonderfully characterised, the solo playing is expressive and vivid, Skrowaczewski appreciating the interior of the music and projecting the sometimes-brash exterior with an animal excitement and also with the ears of a caring musician.
There are too many details to mention. Suffice it to say that in Shostakovich’s astonishing debut symphony, almost a concerto for orchestra, Skrowaczewski is alive to all of the incident and mood-swings while steering a clear, symphonic course through the work. First-class piano-playing – in the ’chase music’ scherzo and when the instrument seems to be in a lonely world of its own in the finale (3’50”-4’32”) – and the strings, earlier in this movement (1’28”-1’39”), are wonderfully soulful, the double basses almost breathing in dynamic togetherness.
Skrowaczewski grabs the great Sixth Symphony and shoots it through with vibrancy and chill, the imploring and numbness of the opening Largo laid bare within a symphonic arch. Of the two counterbalancing faster movements, the Allegro is pretty wild (and musically disciplined in its incisiveness), a piercing clarinet solo its impetus, a superbly timed coldly rhetorical gesture its climax. The finale doesn’t over-sprint and is as true as an arrow heading dead-centre for the bulls-eye.
Two deeply impressive and satisfying interpretations with orchestra and conductor in harmony and revealing music that might be considered implacable but which needs a code-cracker to get beneath it. Skrowaczewski is one such. Indeed, I’m tempted to suggest that for this particular Shostakovich coupling, “Stan’s the Man”. I hope he will take my flippancy with the admiration and affection intended.