Underrated. Skrowaczewski was an underrated conductor in his lifetime. Yes the press would review the CDs he would release on smaller record labels but he was never the sensational star conductor like some of his peers.
I first came across the Bruckner symphony set when I was a student. Of course, I had already heard his collaboration with Rubinstein on a famous recording of Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto but I could never remember his name. But then I heard the Bruckner!
I bought the Third Symphony first: what a driven performance – energetic, fast, precise playing, wonderful blend of sound. I had already listened to the Tintner set, which came out around the same time, and it was a revelation to hear such contrasting approaches. Where Tintner was slow and meditative, Skrowaczewski was fast and furious. This is not to say his interpretation was less spiritual. This was first-rate Bruckner to the likes of Jochum with its pulsing tempi fluctuations.
Skrowaczewski’s affinity with the music of Bruckner can be best explained using his account of how he first discovered the composer as a teenager: he heard the sound of a Bruckner symphony coming from a first-floor window and was so awe-struck that he had to stay in bed for days and a doctor had to be called in. “I got sick from hearing his gorgeous music…paralyzed by the beauty and power of this symphony.” The piece proved to be the second movement of the 7th Symphony.
And it was Skrowaczewski’s recording of the very same symphony which made me realise his credentials as a Bruckner conductor. What string vibrato, what unfolding of the phrases! That first movement of the 7th alone was all I needed to call Skrowaczewski a pioneer in Bruckner performance. I would place this specific recording of the 7th alongside the Jochum/Dresden account of the same work. It is heart-meltingly beautiful.
I didn’t hesitate: I remember emailing his record label at the time, suggesting the same forces record the Beethoven symphonies. And indeed the Beethoven symphonies did follow, even though much later. And these were also affectionate, first-rate performances despite the fierce competition in the field.
Skrowaczewski’s death is a great loss. Until the very end he championed the transcendental music of Bruckner making recordings with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He has now joined the pantheon of immortal Bruckner conductors, alongside Karajan, Wand, Celibidache and Furtwangler to name just a few.