, November 2011
I have listened to Strauss’s tone poem many times in the past few years, but this enthralling resurrected account from Kurt Sanderling and a BBC regional orchestra is a rare occasion where I can also say that I heard it. Set down in 1975, it is an example of pure—though certainly not simple— music-making that pays the composer the compliment of taking the piece seriously.
Kurt Sanderling—a most affable man, by all accounts, who has just passed away at the grand old age of 98—spent a large proportion of his working life behind the Iron Curtain. From the 1970s onwards, however, he was increasingly allowed to travel internationally and, as we can see on this disc, did not confine himself to capital cities and metropolitan orchestras.
Make no mistake, however: the 1975 BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (to be renamed the BBC Philharmonic seven years later) was a band that it was, if this performance is a guide, well worth travelling—or at least tuning in to BBC Radio 3—in order to hear. David Patmore’s useful booklet notes quote its then leader Barry Griffiths as saying that Sanderling “gave us the impression that he thought we were a great orchestra and as a result he got the absolute most out of us”, and it is hard, listening to the results on this disc, to disagree with that assessment of the outcome. Mr Griffiths himself, for one, gives an outstandingly moving performance of the solo violin part—the first time, it seems, that he had played it in public…
The Strauss is coupled on this disc with Sanderling’s only extant recording of Schubert’s Unfinished. This is once again an account to be treasured. The key features in Sanderling’s approach are, as indicated in the booklet notes, concentration and intensity, qualities he clearly imparted to the orchestra. Once again, the BBCNSO is beautifully balanced and the wide dynamic range that the conductor successfully creates gives new colours and new life to the music. The emphasis is again on balancing Schubert’s lyricism with carefully controlled tension and drama and that aim is fully achieved. Just as with Ein Heldenleben, this account had me listening to the score with an unexpected level of attention and fresh ears. Read complete review