Kurt Sanderling

Kurt Sanderling conducts Bruckner, Shostakovich & Mahler

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If one were to characterize Kurt Sanderling's 1965 recording of Bruckner's Third Symphony with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester in two words, those words would be relentless intensity. These are good words to apply to any performance of Bruckner's Third, also known as the "Symphony of Pauses," because of the composer's frequent application of luftpausen between sections to articulate structure. By holding these pauses too long, the wrong conductor can disturb or even destroy the Third's structure. The right conductor, however, can use these pauses to enhance the structure by making sure that even when paused, the music never stops progressing.

In Sanderling's concentrated interpretation, the intensity of Bruckner's harmonies and the relentless drive of his rhythms make the pauses function as the composer hoped they would: as moments for listeners to catch their breath before the music moves majestically forward. With the deep-toned and rich-textured Leipzig orchestra giving him and the music everything they have, Sanderling turns in a performance of Bruckner's Third worthy to take its place as among the greatest ever recorded.

If one were to characterize Sanderling's 1961 recording of Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with Hermann Prey in two words, however, those words would be overly dramatic. Most of the responsibility for this is the Dutch baritone's, who croons as much as sings, sliding into pitches and bending tempos to suit his histrionic delivery. But Sanderling goes along with him, leading the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin in performances that are slow, sluggish, and dull.

More successful is Sanderling's 1968 recording of Shostakovich's From Jewish Folk Poetry. Performed here by soprano Maria Croonen, alto Annelies Burmeister, and tenor Peter Schreier, the Soviet composer's grim song cycle sounds even more bitterly ironic than usual here, particularly because Sanderling elicits such pungently colored and rhythmically driven playing from the Berliner Sinfonieorchester. On balance, then, this is a set well worth getting by fans of the conductor or by fans of Bruckner and Shostakovich, but not so much for fans of Mahler. Berlin Classics' stereo sound is rough and honest, with a sense of time and place that overcomes its sometimes limited clarity.

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