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CD: Crotchet

Stanisław SKROWACZEWSKI (b. 1923)
Music at Night (1949, rev. 1977) [18:15]
Il piffero dela Notte - Fantasy for Flute and Orchestra (2007) [21:54]
Symphony - In memory of Ken Dayton (2003) [36:22]
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern/Stanisław Skrowaczewski
rec. Saarbrücken 2003-2008
Experience Classicsonline

The name of Stanisław Skrowaczewski will be well known as a conductor to aficionados of the Vox family labels. His Ravel in particular is not to be missed and neither is his Schumann and Bruckner - the latter two on Oehms Classics. He is also a composer as this substantial collection serves to prove. He was born in Lwow to a brain surgeon and a pianist. A hand injury from an explosion during the war put paid to his hopes of becoming a concert pianist. After the end of hostilities he moved to Krakow where he studied with Roman Palester (1907-1989). Between 1949 and 1981 he produced very few works including a Cor Anglais Concerto (1969) and the Ricercari Notturni (1977). It seems that he destroyed two early symphonies. A few works survive from prior to 1949, during his Polish period: an overture (1947), the Symphony for Strings (1947-49) and Music at Night which, as heard here, was revived in 1977. Music at Night is in four movements. The orchestra is used abstemiously as a luxuriously appointed palette rather than to deliver great swathes of sound. Night's melancholy, mystery, lushness and promise are suggested in music of sophisticated allusion with light deployment of dissonance. Drum-beat and tom-tom noises are in evidence and in the finale there is stabbing violence. Even that fritters away into a spidery gleaming web. The music has its origin in a ballet: Ugo e Parisina. The Fantasie for flute and orchestra was written for the player here, Roswitha Staege. While conducting the RAI orchestras in Rome the composer met and became close friends with that great flautist Severino Gazzelloni (1919-1992) and his presence haunts the pages of the Fantasie. The music is dark, mercurial, winged and fantastic - Ariel-like with dashes of dissonance. Note again the nocturnal theme reflected in the title.

Apart from the destroyed two early symphonies and the third (the symphony for strings) there is this Fourth Symphony in three movements. In fact this work is, perhaps more strictly, the Fifth as the composer had funnelled his ideas for a symphony into the Pullitzer prize-winning Concerto for Orchestra (1985). The Symphony of 2003 is a big work of rising 37 minutes. It is dedicated to his friend of the Minneapolis years, Ken Dayton. It was premiered on the evening of the composer's eightieth birthday. There's no escaping it, this is a work absorbed in tragedy and burning with anger. The focus is on the impoverishment of the human spirit - the loss of the cultural traditions especially in America. Two lanky quarter hour plus movements flank a diminutive poisonous or poisoned splenetic scherzo of 5:08. The stylistic references are to Bartók, Shostakovich and the Polish avant-garde. The outer two movements carry the bigger furious gestures but have more of a slow epic gait. In addition tracts of music are delicately plaited with elegiac vinegary strings and the lustrous chime of church bell, celesta, marimba, vibraphone, harp and piano. Phantasmal music - mercurial and a warning about the bony hand at the throat of cultural appreciation.

Music brought to our ears with unflinching wringing intensity.

Rob Barnett


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