SKROWACZEWSKI:  Passacaglia Immaginaria.  Chamber Concerto.  Concerto for Clarinet & Orchestra in A.
Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orch/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, cond.

ALBANY TROY 481 (F) (DDD) TT:  77:03

Skrowaczewski was born in 1923, exactly halfway between Witold Lutosławski and Krzysztof Pendercki. Before committing to the baton in 1948, he studied piano in his native Poland, composition at Paris with Nadia Boulanger, and through the years has written music (although hardly as much as he has conducted and recorded). Nineteen of his podium years (1960-79) were spent in Minneapolis, and for that orchestra in 1995 he created the 26-minute Passacaglia Immaginaria in a single movement (that's "“Imaginary Passacaglia," damned if I know why). The Chamber Concerto (a.k.a. Ritornelli poi Ritornelli, which translates "Returns, after Returns") was composed for the 35th anniversary in 1992-93 of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, in memory of its late founder Leopold Sipe. For this background one is beholden to Mary Ann Feldman's copious annotation, as well as notes on the Clarinet Concerto composed for the Minnesota Orchestra's co-principal, Joseph Longo, who introduced it during April 1981.

In terms of style, these three works are independent entities: there is no "Skrowaczewski sound," such as we find in the works of his experimental contemporaries worldwide. But he does repeatedly write in a dissonant, nonserial vocabulary for neo-Baroque structures (the Boulanger indoctrination), including aleatoric passages in Passacaglia, a work of dark vision that builds to a walloping climax before subsiding. It defies both categorization and quick assimilation, and indeed very much depends on one's mood during repeated listenings. Incontestable, however, is Skrowaczewski's command of orchestral apparatus for whatever effect he seeks.

A jauntier side shows in the Chamber Concerto, again in a single movement, with a more transparent pallette—a fascinatingly "coloristic"piece with plenty of pointillistic percussion in its 22:46 course. The Concerto for Clarinet in A and Orchestra is another lavishly percussive piece, albeit one from which shrill-sounding winds and trumpets have been eliminated. There are three movements ranging from a somber opening, Lento misterioso, to a Nocturne in the middle featuring aleatoric rhythm!, to a brief, piquant Presto finale, although not a conventionally resolved ending.

The playing—not least Richard Stolzman's, here happily less mannered than we've heard too often in the past—is altogether expert: Skrowaczewski knows exactly what he has composed, why, and has the stick technique to summon it. The Saarbrücken Radio Orchestra knows him well by this time, and had been finely coached in a panoply of outrČ 20th-century styles by Hans Zender, its principal conductor from from 1972 to 1984, followed for five seasoning seasons by Myung-Whun Chung, then Marcello Viotti, and next Michael Stern whom Günther Herbig replaced as principal conductor in 2001/2. But this disc is Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's show, and the production team of Thomas Raisig and Erich Heigold has done him, the orchestra and themselves proud.

For the rest of us, the question remains this music's ability to hypnotize or alienate. I don't think, however, anyone will remain neutral, much less doze off. Too much is going on that's provocative.

R.D. (Feb. 2002)