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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in D, op.25 “Classical” (1917) [12:22]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Symphony No. 4, Op. 60 Symphonie Concertante (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. live, 3 April 1967, Huddersfield Town Hall, UK

I had wondered what had happened to Orchestral Concert CDs (reviews) when this disc landed helpfully on my reviewing desk. It commemorates a performance given in Huddersfield Town Hall, in England, in April 1967 by the visiting Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Witold Rowicki.

This isn’t the first time that the performance has been issued. As the notes relate, it was included, along with a documentary DVD, in a memorial booklet devoted to the conductor published in 2014 to mark the centenary of his birth. A handy link to the downloadable pdf file of this Polish-language booklet is also helpfully provided in the eight-page notes.

The very good news is that supremo Geoffrey Terry’s recording set-up in 1967 is fully the equal of the other recordings he has released in this series of live performances. The proof of the pudding lies in the clarity with which he captures orchestral choirs but also in the inherent tonal and timbral warmth that are generated. The hall ambience never swamps the orchestra – microphones have been optimally sited – and yet it remains distinctive.

Then there is the small matter of the performances themselves to consider. Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony is not too demanding and there is pleasing phrasing in the slow movement and some on-the-button string sectional work. Szymanowski’s Symphony No.4, the Symphonie Concertante, features pianist Jan Ekier then around 34 years old, but who lived to the grand age of 100. In fact he died a fortnight before his 101st birthday. This distinguished musician was widely admired and an almost exact contemporary of the conductor. In their youth both had been active in Krakow – Ekier was born there, but studied at the Warsaw Conservatory, whilst Rowicki studied at Krakow Conservatory where he was later to become Professor of Violin.

The well-balanced piano ensures that Ekier’s contribution is rightly a concertante one. The performance is a mixture of bravura and warmth where the role played by the winds is optimum. Rowicki builds the energy-quotient via the strings with practised grip, the performance marrying splendid control with acutely perceptive phraseology.

I wish the same could be said of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony. The cycle preserved on LYS seems to confirm that this is how Rowicki habitually took it. The metrical freedoms he favours are extreme, the Scherzo hammered out as quickly as I’ve heard it - a bizarre kind of giocoso indeed - and the passacaglia finale almost falls apart under the weight of so many elastic gear-changes. One wonders quite what Rowicki’s point of view was in this work.

The booklet has been attractively designed and is a pleasure to peruse though there are, perhaps, too many colours for visual comfort. The focal point here is the Szymanowski – and the excellent sound quality.

Jonathan Woolf



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