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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 – 1975)
Symphony No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 10 (1924)
Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 54 (1939)
Hallé Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
recorded in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, November 1st, 1996 (No. 1) and November 7th, 1997 (No. 6). DDD.
HALLE CD HLL 7506 [61’05"]


This is the first of the Halle’s own recordings I have heard. I enjoyed it immensely. Recorded in the late 1990s when alas Skrowaczewski was no longer Principal Conductor, this recording shows clearly why the Halle should regret losing their Polish chief. There is one benefit however – the Halle are now enjoying a renewal in their fortunes with Mark Elder. Much of this can justifiably be put at the feet of Skrowaczewski. The problem that the Halle had with the Polish conductor was that of Marketing and Image; it was thought that he had shortcomings in both of these areas. Where it really mattered however was in the building up of an orchestra. Skrowaczewski was second to none in this area.

Whenever I saw him in the flesh at concerts he was not in the least flamboyant – he just conducted and some superb music making was in progress – not quite harking back to the Barbirolli days, but superb music-making none the less. And on this disc one can hear only too well why Skrowaczewski will be missed, even if we include Mark Elder with his Rattle-like goldfish impressions, plus twee, vomit-inducing introductions to the concerts. If this is marketing and image at work, God help us.

Shostakovich was a very gifted student in Leningrad until the appearance of his first symphony. The symphony lifted him from student to major symphonic composer, and the work was played extensively throughout the world and has continued to be so ever since. Quirky and extremely moving in parts, the symphony was an immediate hit with orchestras and audiences alike, and was the start of a symphonic cycle unmatched by any other twentieth century composer.

The Petrograd Conservatoire was a little miffed at the young composer, as the work had been written primarily as a graduation "exercise" and here it was being performed in public before being marked by his teachers. Needless to say he passed! After the first two somewhat grotesque fast movements the symphony expands into one of those long emotionally draining slow movements which were to become such a well-known aspect of the composer’s work in later years.

The Halle give a superb performance of the work, and it comes to its rollicking conclusion with the engineers catching the orchestra in full flight, in the sympathetic acoustic of the Bridgewater Hall.

Quite a few years had passed before the appearance of the other work on this disc, the 6th Symphony. Following on from the very popular 5th Symphony, the 6th was well received by the audiences of the day, but the press were less enthusiastic, as well they might given the artistic climate in the Soviet Union at the time. For a start, here was a symphony starting with a long slow movement of extreme emotional content, followed by two fast, quirky movements, which made the balance of the work seem suspect.

However, played like this, one can be assured of a very moving experience, bringing back memories of this combination’s very successful 10th Symphony previously available on Carlton. Warmly recommended.

John Phillips



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