Skrowaczewski on Albany

0 of 5 stars

Passacaglia Immaginaria
Chamber Concerto (Ritornelli Poi Ritornelli)
Concerto for Clarinet in A and Orchestra

Richard Stoltzman (clarinet)
Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2002

A school of thought suggests that the most insightful conductors (individual might be the better word) are also those who compose – Furtwangler, Bernstein and Celibidache, say. Certain conductors nominate themselves as being composers first – Boulez, Gielen and Zender. This can be debated. How about Paul Kletzki, who is remembered as a fine conductor, yet he wrote four symphonies that are virtually unknown; the one that I’ve heard, No.2 I think, is well worth getting to know. Igor Markevitch’s output has now been assessed (courtesy of Marco Polo) … and when, I wonder, will there be a similar service for Jean Martinon’s catalogue of works – a great conductor, and a composer of real distinction.

Think of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (born 1923) and one recalls a stalwart of the Mercury label, his directorships of the Minneapolis (now Minnesota) and Halle Orchestras, and many distinguished recordings, not least the recent Arte Nova set of Bruckner symphonies.

Skrowaczewski is also a prolific composer. Perhaps, like Lorin Maazel suggests in his music, Skrowaczewski is drawn primarily to the sound of the orchestra and its vast palette of colours and timbres. This certainly seems so in Passacaglia Immaginaria, from 1995, its title suggesting both formality and freedom. In reality this 26-minute piece for large orchestra is more of the imagination than of structural control. This is not to say that no logic underpins the whole, for at the halfway-point one has, perhaps subconsciously, aggregated the opening ideas into the scurrying and aggressive climax that beckons. Stylistically, Bartok is the starting point, and Lutoslawski is a strong presence, not least in the use of percussion. An air of tragedy hangs over this piece; one senses a gloomy landscape, a Shostakovichian loneliness. Instrumental solos are like soliloquies over sustained strings until percussion intercedes and lower strings raise the temperature. Each listener will decide what this piece is about, where it’s going and where it’s been. Those that love the orchestra and the afore-mentioned composers will be on home ground.

The Chamber Concerto was written in 1993 for The St Paul Chamber Orchestra in memory of Leopold Sipe, the SPCO’s founder. Over its 23-minute unbroken span, this lucidly written piece – the chamber scoring includes wind, brass, percussion and harpsichord in addition to strings – confides the ’Returns, after returns’ sub-title through ideas recurring to meld the structure. Such a device does not suggest how moving, mercurial and impassioned the music is. If the use of the harpsichord suggests Schnittke, so too does the emotional anguish of the various solo contributions; Skrowaczewski though is not so subjective and his intensity is shared with the listener rather than pile-driven. The Chamber Concerto has much incident and colour, although one retains firstly a ’shiver’ and a claustrophobic state that the considerable activity fails, ultimately, to overcome.

The close-on half-hour concerto for the ’clarinet in A’ was completed in 1981 for Joseph Longo, co-principal of the Minnesota Orchestra. Cast in the traditional three movements it’s a dramatic work, the soloist emerging out of shadows with a long, melodic line before agitation signals the ’Allegro’, the clarinet rhapsodising over string ostinatos, punctuating percussion and summoning brass before a lengthy cadenza. Nocturnal pursuits seem the key to Skrowaczewski’s soundworld; this concerto has its mysteries but not the other piece’s distress. The moonlit improvisation of the second movement is haunting and raptly harmonised. The short ’Finale’ alternates a lyrical refrain and a hesitant dance before a flurry of excitement brings this terrific piece to a witty conclusion; throughout, Richard Stoltzman gives his all. If an ’Eastern bloc’ consciousness seems to hang over the other music here, the Clarinet Concerto is from somebody who has savoured the ’New World’.

Excellent sound from sessions in 2000 and 2001, and thoroughly committed performances – but then Skrowaczewski is a first-class conductor.

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