From their first releases in the West in the '50s, recordings by German-Russian conductor Kurt Sanderling were highly prized among international collectors. Though perhaps best known for his performances of symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Shostakovich and the core Germanic repertoire, Sanderling was also a strong advocate of the symphonies of Mahler and his three recordings of the Austrian composer's Ninth -- with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Northern Symphony, and the Philharmonia -- are well regarded in some Mahlerian circles. This 1978 live recording of the same composer's Fourth Symphony coupled with Mozart's Overture to Don Giovanni again with the BBC Northern is Sanderling's only released performance of the work.
Unfortunately, it is not especially convincing. The BBC Northern's ragged execution is part of the problem. Not all the time, but all too often, the ensemble sags, the strings scrap, the brass bleat, and the soloists are barely on top of their parts, an exception being concert master Dennis Simons, whose solos in the danse macabre Scherzo are truly hair-raising. Sanderling's uneasy combination of formal objectivity and expressive subjectivity, however, is a larger cause for concern. Take, for example, the opening movement's development's climax when the blazing power that spills forth from the orchestra seems wholly inappropriate to the relaxed flow of the rest of the movement. Still, the performance does have young Felicity Lott's entirely captivating account of the closing movement, which any fan of the soprano and the work will have to at least hear. BBC Music's live stereo sound is clear enough, but slightly recessed.