The Compact Collection

The Week's Best CD Releases

Rob Cowan
Friday 28 September 2001 00:00
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Ten years in the making, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's recently completed Bruckner symphony cycle with the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra – the youthful F minor and unfinished D minor symphonies were taped merely months ago – must surely rank among the year's most unmissable CD bargains.

Where Skrowaczewski's principal low-price rivals, Eliahu Inbal (for Teldec) and the late Georg Tintner (for Naxos) tend towards what one might call the "generalised overview", Skrowaczewski highlights the finer points of musical argument. Not that he opts for especially unusual editions of the various scores (Inbal and Tintner offer some rarer alternatives); it's more the way he shapes, paces and balances each score, always with an ear for clarity and what one might call musical logic.

Being a composer himself, Skrowacz-ewski knows where to let the air in, be it at the very end of the Fifth, where woodwind lines are newly liberated, or in the Sixth's finale, which benefits from numerous clarifying touches. And yet, for all his attention to detail, Skrowaczewski never fusses unnecessarily. The Ninth Symphony opens with great breadth, building by stages until an hour or so later, when a cathartic statement of its screaming climactic discord releases the accumulated pressure. The earliest symphonies (the F minor, Nos "0", 1 and 2) are focused with a three-dimensional sense of perspective, and the 82-minute Eighth takes patient strides in pursuit of its overwhelming dénouement.

If you're a habitual score-watcher, you'll have your work cut out checking if what you hear is what's actually written. I doubt you'll find much that isn't. Arte Nova's recordings are bright in texture, with warm brass and string choirs, a firmly drawn bass line and a believable dynamic range. The Fifth's closing timpani crescendo is overwhelming, but viewed overall, Skrowaczewski's Bruckner is lighter on its feet than, say, Herbert von Karajan's or Sergiu Celibidache's. The axis is more Schubertian than Wagnerian, more animated than monumental.

If you already love Bruckner, then you'll certainly gain from experiencing a fresh and in many respects novel interpretative standpoint. But if in the past, Bruckner has struck you as being somewhat of a Teutonic heavyweight, with never a smile on his face, then Skrowaczewski will put you straight.

Bruckner: Symphonies Nos 1-9; Symphonies 'O' and 'F minor'; Overture in G minor – Saarbrücken Symphony Orchestra, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (Arte Nova Classics 74321 85290 2; 12 discs, super-budget price)

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