Kurt Sanderling Edition
State Academy Russian Chorus, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, NDR Sinfonieorchester, Berliner Sinfonie Orchester, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, USSR RTV Large Symphony Orchestra, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, USSR State Symphony Orchestra,
Annette Markert (mezzo); Thomas Zehetmair (violin); Antonio Meneses (cello);
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Kurt Sanderling (conductor)
rec. 1950-94
No sung texts
PROFIL PH13037 [11 CDs]

Following the warmly welcomed release of several editions of radio recordings from conductor Günter Wand Profil has turned its attention to Kurt Sanderling, another conductor who came to general attention quite late in his career. From a Western perspective Sanderling had essentially been hidden away in the Soviet Bloc for several decades. There he found refuge from National Socialism in Germany and its anti-Semitic policies.

It might be helpful to provide a short account of Sanderling’s life and career. He was born in 1912 at Arys in the former East Prussia then part of the German Empire which is now Orzysz, Poland. Sanderling’s career as répétiteur at the Berlin State Opera ended when the Nazis came to power. Owing to being Jewish he was dismissed and as an opportunity to work at the Metropolitan Opera, New York had also fallen through he fled to Moscow in 1935. He was grateful to find refuge and work and eventually began conducting the Moscow Radio Orchestra and the Leningrad Philharmonic.

As a consequence of spending most of his conducting career in the Soviet Union, Sanderling was virtually unknown in the West. In 1960 he was sent to East Germany where he conducted the Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester (renamed Konzerthausorchester in 2006) and also the Staatskapelle Dresden. There he met success and contributed greatly to musical life in the DDR. Sanderling’s name became more widely known as he began conducting at international festivals in Western Europe, the USA first in 1977, Japan and Australia. In 1977 he resigned his post with the Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester. This allowed him more time to take numerous guest conducting positions with the most famous of the world’s orchestras and to building a reputation of renown.

A noted interpreter of the Austro/German repertoire Sanderling also excelled in the music of his adopted country and was a noted exponent of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. In 1983 I was fortunate to see Sanderling conduct the BBC Philharmonic at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester in an all-Russian programme of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Peter Donohoe as soloist and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15. Sanderling died in 2011 in Berlin aged 98, a couple of days shy of his 99th birthday. His death sparked international interest with the New York Times running the headline “Kurt Sanderling, Eastern Bloc Conductor, Dies at 98.”

Overall I can’t help being slightly disappointed by this Sanderling collection. Ideally, in addition to the four composers represented I would have preferred different works from two or three more composers. I am thinking particularly of some of the excellent recordings Sanderling made of works by Schumann, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Sibelius, Prokofiev and especially Shostakovich. These can be found on Berlin Classics, Harmonia Mundi, Denon and Deutsche Grammophon.

There is a point when I am unable to concentrate easily on the music through poor sound quality. Several such occasions occur in this set. One such is the Beethoven Choral Fantasy with Sviatoslav Richter as soloist with the State Academy Russian Chorus and USSR RTV Large Symphony Orchestra. Sanderling’s forces don’t gel as well as one expects and Richter’s piano sounds generally woody as one might expect from a forte-piano. Richter is the eminent soloist in the two Rachmaninov piano concertos. The first in F sharp minor is recorded with uneven sound and with a closely miked piano which makes it difficult to concentrate on the performance. The later C major concerto has more stable sound although it feels as if it has been recorded in another room. Richter is satisfying and alive and projects a fine sense of expression.

Of the set of three Rachmaninov symphonies, those in D minor and E minor are given vigorously passionate performances by the Leningrad Philharmonic. Both works were recorded in the 1950s and contain reasonably acceptable sound if a touch distant which reduces their competitiveness. Finest of the Rachmaninov symphonies is the A minor score played by the NDR Sinfonieorchester, a more recent recording from 1994 with much improved sound. Sanderling’s reading, which may not be as heart-on-sleeve as say Ormandy/Philadelphia Orchestra in 1967 on Sony, displays beautiful playing that is taut and striking. The final movement is exceptionally successful.

Of the most enjoyable works heading the line we come to Sanderling’s engrossing performance of Bruckner Symphony No. 4 with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. There's some especially thrilling playing in the finale. Persuasively played by the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 which is warm and delightfully glowing with a sure sense of drama in the Allegro. Also with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln in the Double Concerto by Brahms Sanderling gives a persuasive account that is bright and uplifting. Soloists Zehetmair and Meneses make a formidable partnership. Recorded with the Berliner Sinfonie Orchester the set of four Brahms symphonies are warm and gracious in character, often buoyant and ebullient, with an agreeable sound quality. Despite their quality these cannot match the best of the competition in the catalogue notably Otto Klemperer/Philharmonia on EMI and Riccardo Chailly/Gewandhausorchester Leipzig on Decca. The genial and radiant playing in the Haydn Variations from the Berlin orchestra is satisfying and Sanderling seems totally in accord with Brahms’s sound-world. Probably the finest of all in this set is the Alto Rhapsody with the Rundfunkchor Berlin and the Berliner Sinfonie Orchester. Rich toned mezzo-soprano Annette Markert, is in quite glorious voice and draws a powerful emotional and spiritual response. I haven’t heard a finer account of this work; it’s a real find.

Unusually for Profil, the accompanying booklet is merely a list of works with recording dates and locations. There is no information about Sanderling and a general shortage of basic information in the set to inform the listener which recordings have been previously released. Absent are details of those works that are studio or recorded live, however, applause can be heard at the conclusion of some. Unfortunately no sung texts with translations are provided. I must again grumble about the paper sleeves with stick-down flaps — they're the bane of all record collectors.

What we have here is a mixed bag owing to inconsistency of both performance and sound quality. This set is for only the most die-hard Kurt Sanderling admirer.

Michael Cookson
Full details

CD 1
Symphony No. 4 (version 1878/1880) [71.02]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
rec. 1994 Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich

CD 2

Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’ [46.45]
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
rec. 1985 Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln

CD 3
Concerto for violin and cello, Op. 102 [34.48]
Thomas Zehetmair (violin), Antonio Meneses (cello)
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
rec. 1985 Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln
Choral Fantasy for piano, chorus and orchestra, Op. 80 [19.15]
State Academy Russian Chorus
USSR RTV Large Symphony Orchestra
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. 1952 Moscow

CD 4

Symphony No. 1, Op. 68 [50.36]
Berliner Sinfonie Orchester
rec. 1990 Christuskirche, Berlin

CD 5
Symphony No. 2, Op. 73 [50.36]
Alto Rhapsody for alto, male chorus and orchestra, Op. 53 [13.24]
Annette Markert (mezzo)
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Berliner Sinfonie Orchester
rec. 1990 Christuskirche, Berlin

CD 6
Symphony No. 3, Op. 90 [41.48]
Variations on a Theme by Haydn [20.12]
Berliner Sinfonie Orchester
rec. 1990 Christuskirche, Berlin

CD 7
Symphony No. 4, Op. 98 [46.07]
Berliner Sinfonie Orchester
rec. 1990 Christuskirche, Berlin

CD 8

Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 1 (revised version 1917) [26.42]
rec. 1955 Moscow
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18 [34.39]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra
rec. 1959 live Moscow

CD 9
Symphony No. 1, Op. 13 [44.27]
Symphony Orchestra of Leningrad Philharmonic [44.31]
rec. 1950/51

CD 10
Symphony No. 2, Op. 27 [54.06]
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. 1956

CD 11
Symphony No. 3, Op. 44 [43.46]
NDR Sinfonieorchester
rec. live 1994 Musikhalle, Hamburg

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