Kurt Sanderling = R. STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished” – Barry Griffith, violin solo/BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra/Kurt Sanderling
BBC Legends BBCL 4261-2, 70:25 [Distr. by E1] ****:
Culled from two distinct sessions from Manchester, this fine BBC Legend issue features the smooth artistry of conductor Kurt Sanderling (b. 1912) in music of Richard Strauss ((30 September 1975 from Free Trade Hall) and Schubert (17 April 1978, from the BBC Studios). Sanderling’s immense experience with the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra and the Leningrad Philharmonic, as well as with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, allows him elegant interpretative freedom in large canvases like the Strauss Ein Heldenleben, the ultimate in ego-musik. Assisted by an enthusiastic concertante soloist in Barry Griffith (aka Pauline Strauss), Sanderling mounts a titanic tone-poem whose six sections culminate in diverse Strauss quotations and several reminiscences of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. Sanderling allows violinist Griffith free play to indulge “the Hero’s helpmeet” in his cacophonous engagements with critics and detractors. The actual clash rages mercilessly in the contorted brass and battery sections, a real military tumult of the first order, a Battle-Royal. The transitions, the feeling for the piece’s often immense architecture–marked by the return to the opening, heroic theme–become arched and expansive periods of inevitable consonant harmony. Thus, we enter The Hero’s Works of Peace, all of which bear a remarkable likeness to diverse Strauss tone-poems and lieder. The Hero retires in a combination of blazing glory and quiet resignation, the French horns particularly conversant in the proceedings, along with The Hero’s Companion. A slight variation from Thus Spake Zararthustra announces that if anyone has solved the Riddle of Existence, it is Strauss or his acolyte, Sanderling.
The Schubert Unfinished presents us Sanderling’s only account of the piece, here in the BBC Studios. Intimate grace marks the B Minor procession in ¾ time, a tenderly broad urgency mixed with willful dark drama. The repeat in the first movement makes the movement to the submediant G even more pronounced, particularly as it soon modulates to the bassoon pedal B under the F-sharp in the French horn, a dissonance that evokes a world of subdued anguish. The BBC flutes prove lustrously resonant, especially as the cellos and secondary strings counter their hope with Stygian despair. The E Major Andante Sanderling presents as a series of alternately melodic and contrapuntal exercises in 3/8 whose purpose never deviates from heartbreak. BBC clarinet and oboe contribute their respective poignancy, the BBC strings and tympani (David Stirling) in resolute antiphons. That Sanderling elicits such a piquant and affecting performance without any audience presence testifies to the sympathy he could draw from a responsive ensemble.