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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Khovanshchina – Prelude to Act 1 [6:16]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op 44 [43:05]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR / Kurt Sanderling
rec. 29-31 March 1995, Stuttgart Liederhalle Beethovensaal. DDD
SWR CLASSIC SWR19050CD [49:21]

Here’s another valuable issue from the archives of SWR. This one preserves two of the three works presented in a programme in 1995 by the radio station’s orchestra under a most distinguished guest conductor, Kurt Sanderling.

So far as I’m aware, this is the only single-disc recording of Sanderling conducting Rachmaninov’s final symphony. There’s another performance, dating from 1994 and recorded live with the NDR Sinfonieorchester. However, that’s immured in an 11-disc box which my colleague Michael Cookson reviewed in 2016.

As a Jew, Sanderling was driven from Germany in 1936 and he settled in the USSR where he quickly attracted attention. He secured the post of second chief conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic where he worked alongside Yevgeny Mravinsky from 1942 until 1960. His long period of residence in the USSR gave him an ideal opportunity to immerse himself in Russian music, which he did to excellent effect. There is, for example, a celebrated mono recording of the Rachmaninov Second Symphony which he made with the Leningrad orchestra in Berlin in May 1956; this was released by DG and most recently appeared on CD in their ‘Originals’ series. (I wonder if that’s the same recording that’s contained in the aforementioned Profil box reviewed by Michael Cookson: the overall timing is identical to the DG disc.)

Kurt Sanderling was a famously disciplined conductor and that virtue is on display here. In the first movement of the symphony he doesn’t by any means skate over the nostalgic side of the music but neither is he indulgent. Sanderling has a firm grip on the music and I always felt, as I listened, that there was a clear sense of direction about this performance. The Adagio ma non troppo movement is very well judged; Sanderling paces the music very convincingly and always conveys its spirit. The central scherzo-like episode (5:20-9:00) is lightly and brightly performed; in this section the rhythmic drive and definition is impressive.

Sanderling leads an account of the finale that is vigorous but never over-driven. Even when Rachmaninov eases the pulse for one of his nostalgically lyrical episodes Sanderling contrives to maintain tension. This may not be the most colourful or flamboyant rendition of the movement on disc but Sanderling’s disciplined and clear-sighted approach brings its own rewards. Overall, I enjoyed this performance of the symphony very much and as I’ve not previously heard this much-admired conductor in this symphony I’m delighted to add this version to my collection.

Before the symphony Sanderling leads a spacious and atmospheric account of the Prelude to Khovanshchina. Unfortunately, that’s it: the disc is rather short measure but we read in the notes that the other item in Sanderling’s programme was the Brahms First Piano Concerto so the entire concert would not have fitted on a single CD.

The SWR orchestra plays very well for Sanderling. The 1995 sound, which has been remastered from the SWR’s tapes, is perfectly satisfactory.

Despite the short playing time these Sanderling performances are welcome additions to the catalogue.

John Quinn



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