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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in D Classical, op. 25 (1917) [12:22]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Symphony No. 4 Symphonie Concertante, op. 60 (1932) [22:11]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98 (1884) [37:13]
Jan Ekier (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Witold Rowicki
rec. Huddersfield Town Hall, 3 April 1967

The Orchestral Concert CDs label is sustained by Geoffrey Terry's treasure trove of concert recordings made by him during the 1960s and early 1970s. These emanated from orchestras from Eastern Europe on tour in the UK.

This is a live event with coughs, shuffling and throat-clearing which is largely confined to between movements; naturally there's applause at the end of each work.

The Classical Symphony flies along with rippling power, making all those flickering changes of tempo and dynamic at the charge. The audience is well behaved. This presumably marks their completely understandable absorption in and appreciation of the performance. This is showcase-fast music-making. The only downside is that the usually magically slow second movement is hurried. It lacks heart in much the same way as Svetlanov's pummelled Capriccio Italien. Rowicki and his Warsaw players make the whole work an exercise in the breathlessly impressive which has its own very different delights. You won't forget this.

The Szymanowski Symphonie Concertante aurally places Jan Ekier amid the main body of players. Rowicki and Ekier appear utterly at ease with their countryman's music. This would have been fairly unfamiliar to Western audiences in those days. If they knew Szymanowski at all they would have owed their knowledge to rare imported Polski-Nagrania LPs and the occasional swashbuckling BBC broadcast. The finale combines shimmer and kinetic charge.

If the Prokofiev is fast - and it is - Rowicki's Brahms' Fourth is not taken at a casual dawdle. The conductor seems intent on 'pushing the envelope' and this certainly makes for exciting if occasionally surprising listening. I made a few comparisons. Barbirolli who recorded the work at about the same time with the VPO took 45 minutes. Years later, for EMI, Sawallisch and the LPO took close to 42 minutes. Szell in Cleveland, again at about the same time, took 43 minutes. Dorati, in 1963 with the LSO, took 39:12 and that felt fast. Svetlanov on Scribendum with his T34 of an orchestra took about the same time as Rowicki here. Giulini stands at the opposite pole, taking 46:41 with the VPO in 1992. Times can be simplistic and misleading. Here, however, Rowicki has notes treading on each other and in the third movement the music is driven and whipped forward. The gruffly spat-out and almost vituperative finale projects something verging on anger; contained but still anger. Very unusual.

The booklet cover is a watercolour of Huddersfield Town Hall by Andrew Jenkin. It's title is "Going to the Messiah at Huddersfield Town Hall". The booklet itself is well done with an introduction to each piece of music and unusual non-pro-forma profiles of Ekier, Rowicki and the orchestra. Especially interesting, and definitely worth having, is Mr Terry's detail-rich memoir of the orchestra's 1967 UK tour. It's not often you get this sort of flavoursome detail of time and place and it is well done.

The present disc was first issued by the Warsaw Philharmonic as part of a book ("Witold Rowicki in memoriam") commemorating Witold Rowicki's centenary in 2014.

A Huddersfield concert with no prisoners taken, vintage 1967. Not a library choice but a fascinating record of a live event, sparks still flying.

Rob Barnett

Previous reviews: Jonathan Woolf ~ Stephen Vasta



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