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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphonies: No. 2 in D, Op. 36 (1801/2) [32'40]; No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55, 'Eroica' (1803) [49'32]
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
rec. Grosser Saal des SR, 1-3 June 2005 (No. 2), live, Kongresshalle, Saarbrücken, 15-16 Jan 2005 (No. 3). DDD

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Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, it strikes me, has never quite received the recognition he deserves. His initial concerts with the Hallé Orchestra were quite revelatory – an interesting coupling of Mozart (29th Symphony) and Mahler 10th featured in one, while Ives rubbed shoulders with Stravinsky in another. Although his subsequent programming while at the helm of that orchestra was less adventurous - maybe pressure was applied by the orchestra board? - he was never less than interesting, even introducing some of his own compositions. His career has included a memorable stay - nineteen years! - at Minnesota. His recording achievements include a memorable Bruckner cycle.

Skrowaczewski clearly interacts well with the Saarbrücken orchestra. His view of the Second Symphony is  fascinating. Far from seeing it in any sense as less than the other eight, he imbues the opening with real weight. The sound is big but expressive, yet accents and ornaments reveal an awareness of authentic practice. The intent seems to be to show how seriously he takes this piece – indeed, the Allegro con brio is massively punchy - lovely agile strings - while the development has distinct shadows. A light but emotive Larghetto - sheer delight, with suave passages – 3'40 – and a nice darkening around the four-minute mark - leads to a spring-in-the-step Scherzo; recessed horns, though. Perhaps the finale is the finest movement, dramatic and punchy. String accents are excellently caught by the superb recording.

The 'Eroica' opens with two huge E flat explosions. There is little space for pastoral allusion in Skrowaczewski's view of this first movement, an outlook that more than pays dividends in the build-up to the climactic grinding dissonances. The Funeral March is dark and seems to inhabit various worlds at once, from the bleak opening to the lovely later sense of flow. The recording helps: the depth of the strings is caught to perfection around 11'20.

Skrowaczewski encourages his horns to assume the mantle of real hunting horns in the exciting third movement - strings really dig in to accents. There is no real gap before the astonishing outburst of the finale's opening. Strings are again astonishing in their accuracy. Contrasts abound here, the ensuing pizzicati all but inaudible. The variations are kept under a tight rein. Skrowaczewski combines real control with a sense of breadth that arches over a movement packed with incident and change.

A massive achievement and a reminder of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's stature as a musician. Do try this. Most people reading this will have multiple versions of this repertoire, of course, but one more reminder of these works' stature under the illuminating Skrowaczewski baton won't hurt at all.

Colin Clarke





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