Symphonies - No 1 in C minor, Op. 68; No 2 in D, Op. 73; No 3 in F, Op.
90; No 4 in E minor Op. 98; Tragic Overture Op.
Real Sound RS 953-0040
(mid-price) 4CDs [186.00]
These discs have only just become widely available - even though they were
first released in 1999. Quite why they should now be given a broad selling
base is beyond me for they are amongst the worst performances I have ever
heard of these symphonies.
The problem is not just of interpretation. The recording is muddy in the
extreme with balances between woodwind and strings very densely projected.
If this were not worry enough the Philharmonia Orchestra, normally a responsive
band of players under even the most testing conductors, are here a shadow
of their formidable best. They play as if they are in a coma with phrasing
lazily articulated and ensemble that falls apart at the seams, even at these
The worst movements are invariably the slow ones - the andante of the First
Symphony being a particularly bad example of Sanderling's peculiarly ill-judged
self-indulgence. The C minor allegro tries to get off the ground but crashes
mid term, despite a bit of a sprint at the opening. The Second Symphony is
a real problem for Sanderling junior - the volatility of the allegretto
con spirito so sublime in the hands of Toscanini, Furtwängler or
Beecham here leaden and earthbound. The Third Symphony, a problem for many
conductors, is here a near catastrophe, starting and stalling like an ancient
juggernaut. We at least get the first movement repeat - ignored in the other
symphonies - but at Sanderling's stolid pace it merely adds to the impression
that these are laboriously played performances. In the Fourth the visceral
impact of Brahms' writing is all but ignored - the codas to both the first
and fourth movements being played as if under anaesthetic.
The sheer weight of these performances, or the perception of weight, attempts
to reconstruct Brahms as played by Sanderling's father, Kurt, or by Otto
Klemperer. Klemperer may have been weighty in the First Symphony (as he was
in the others), but at least he furnished it with drama and intensity. Here,
Sanderling gives us only half the story - weight, yes, but everything else
is strangely missing. Sanderling may have perceptive ideas about the Brahms
symphonies (his Third, whilst almost a disaster structurally, is at least
more persuasively lyrical than most) but the Philharmonia are hostages to
interpretations for which they seem to have little time.
On four discs, even at mid-price, and with only one coupling (an appallingly
laboured Tragic Overture), this is a waste of money. Celibidache on EMI (also
on four discs) offers expansive and perceptive performances - and we even
get the German Requiem as a filler. Buy the EMI, and avoid Sanderling at