Sanderling coaxes and caresses every note and relishes
every bar of this high-tide late romantic epic. His orchestra sounds
voluptuously ample and the strings sing and seethe remarkably well.
The soundstage illusion (for illusion is our currency) is that of a
grand concert-hall or at least that is the impression. The dynamic range
is very wide. Sanderling spends time reinventing each phrase and contour,
breathing in significances and texts. In this he reminded me of Ormandy
at one moment, of Levi in his Telarc recordings of Sibelius 1 and 5
and of Svetlanov at others. Despite the long playing time Sanderling
weighs and shapes the phrases and momentum with such experienced judgement
that the whole thing works well. His nemesis however comes in the finale
which demands a galvanic and euphoric rush. Here however it sounds simply
arthritic; at the other extreme you get the gabble into which the eruptive
Golovanov falls in the superbly mastered Boheme CD. Such a pity since
the other movements left me very deeply impressed indeed.
The competition is thick and numerous. The Previn classic
is too smeared and sentimental to stand compare although at one time
I thought extremely highly of it. The Melodiya conducted by Svetlanov
is of the much cut version while Golovanov on Boheme is in a class of
its own. Askhenazy is good; Janssons in a cheap EMI boxed set similarly.
Cura abandoning the opera stage directs the Warsaw
orchestra in a fleet-footed and superb performance which stands at the
other pole from Sanderling. This is brightly recorded by Avie. Cura's
engineers have the listener floating freely weaving and diving from
section to section in a way which may not be very natural but which
grips the attention in a work that has its longueurs.
An extremely good expansive version let down a
little by the too leisurely finale.