Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No.1 in D (Classical Symphony) Op.25 [12.22]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Symphony No.4 (Symphony Concertante) Op.60 [22.11]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.4 in E minor Op.98 [37.13]
Jan Ekier (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Witold Rowicki
rec. live, Huddersfield Town Hall, 3 April 1967
ORCHESTRAL CONCERT CDs CD15/2016 [71.46]
Live concerts are often much more exciting than the 'canned' variety, rather as fresh food is better than processed. When foreign orchestras tour they are always more keyed up than when playing at home, so it is no surprise that the Warsaw Philharmonic provide great excitement in this entire programme. The primary consequence is a willingness to take risks in front of a live audience that they either would not take in the studio, or which would be edited out anyway because of mistakes. This concert is presented warts and all. There are quite a lot of warts but they simply do not matter in the white heat of these performances. The recorded Brahms 4th that sets the standard is the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Carlos Kleiber: he takes 39 minutes and 20 seconds. Rowicki takes two minutes less, indicative of more rapid tempi, but also indicative of placing drama above accuracy. The Warsaw Philharmonic have always been one of the world's exciting orchestras and in the 1960s they were very special indeed. Brahms is greatly enhanced by this level of passion and the performance is almost exhausting to hear. The audience would also have been excited by the Szymanowski Symphony Concertante before the interval. Pianist Jan Ekier was a prominent member of the musical elite in Poland and here he is caught at his very best, playing the complex solo piano part in this concertante work with massive power. I cannot believe it ever sounded better. The Prokofiev Classical Symphony is a gentler affair but still serves as a very fine overture to an A-star concert.
This is the first of Geoffrey Terry's Orchestral Concert CDs to cross my path so it has the benefit of surprising me with the quality of performance and recording but also it sets the standard against which I will be measuring the rest of my little pile of CDs in this series. The curious tale of how Mr Terry came to have all these recordings is explained at length on the occds.org website. Lengthy yes, but for me, not quite thorough enough. I did email him for more details about the recording equipment but I have yet to receive an answer. All I can do therefore is speculate that it was either pro or semi-pro tape-recording kit because this disc compares well with what the established companies were achieving in the 1960s, and in one or two respects he betters them. Despite hanging his two main microphones above the orchestra and not above and forward in the classic BBC and indeed Decca fashion, he gets a very good and very even spread of sound with a remarkable amount of detail. The dynamic range is as wide as tape technology allowed in those days and the noise level is low enough to be ignored. Whether he uses Dolby Noise Reduction is unknown. I said his 'main microphones' but in fact they are the only ones. That alone separates his approach out from the standard, which is still with us, of using anything up to 30 or more additional microphones to provide detail and allow post-session adjustments. I enjoy the fact that he is audibly correct in his self-imposed limit of two.
Noise is not only a function of analogue tape, it is also provided by the audience. In this respect the good folk of Huddersfield achieve average coughing frequency but thanks to the microphone placement, they are well muted. This is an impressive disc, worth anyone's money, and I look forward to hearing more.
Previous reviews: Jonathan Woolf ~ Stephen Vasta ~ Rob Barnett