A magnificent 9th
On the 23rd day of March, in the land of NEPR, a decree went out from the Music Director that there shall be a Beethoven 9th. And lo: Great rejoicing was heard throughout the land! Or there will be from those who tune in for the performance we've scheduled for you Friday afternoon on WFCR.
Regular listeners have perhaps recently encountered the name of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski on WFCR alongside performances of symphonies by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Bruckner. For some, his will be a new name. For other more, um, experienced listeners, his name will be familiar from the superb Mercury Living Presence recordings from the 1960s with the Minneapolis Symphony (later renamed Minnesota Orchestra), which Skrowaczewski led from 1960-1979. For rookies or veterans alike, you should listen up for the Polish-American conductor's name (we'll handle the spelling and pronunciation for you). Because in the last decade, Skrowaczewski has made some of the most exciting contemporary recordings of the standard symphonic repertoire with the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, of which he remains, in his 89th year, Principal Guest Conductor.
What make them so special? Today's Beethoven 9th is a good example: Tension, vitality and engagement, from first bar to last. Every phrase given shape and character, but each placed in the context of the symphony's overall structure. Interpretive ideas that emerge from the music, rather than being imposed upon the music — no point-making or score-settling (pun intended) here. The elusive, hard-to-define but know-it-when-you-hear-it sense that you get only from the most special performances: this is how the music goes. Add an exceptionally easy-on-the-ear quartet of soloists (not an easy thing, given Beethoven's impossible vocal writing) and excellent choral work, and you get a Beethoven 9th I would put alongside the finest in the catalogue. Don't miss it!