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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 10 (Kurt Sanderling)


Composer: Gustav Mahler
  1. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp major (Cooke's version II): I. Adagio
  2. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp major (Cooke's version II): II. Scherzo
  3. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp major (Cooke's version II): III. Purgatorio. Allegretto moderato
  4. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp major (Cooke's version II): IV. Scherzo
  5. Symphony No. 10 in F sharp major (Cooke's version II): V. Finale

Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Kurt Sanderling, conductor
Date: 1979
Label: Berlin Classics



Sanderling’s interventionist Mahler 10 is surely one of his best recordings

Kurt Sanderling’s latter­day concert performances were noted for their intellectual rigour‚ even if their dearth of surface incident and typically deliberate tread failed to stir non­partisan listeners. His Philharmonia studio recording of Mahler’s Ninth (Erato‚ 12/92Ê–Ênla) was a case in pointÊ–Êsober to a fault. All the more reason to welcome these East German tapes from the late 1970s.

Some background may be helpful. After many years in the Soviet Union‚ working primarily with the Leningrad Philharmonic‚ Sanderling returned to East Berlin in 1960 and until 1977 was general music director of the Berlin Symphony OrchestraÊ–Ênot to be confused with the former Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (of West German Radio)‚ which‚ in 1986‚ recorded Deryck Cooke’s performing edition of Mahler’s Tenth under its then chief Riccardo Chailly. Sanderling’s own pioneering account of the work isÊ–Êor ought to beÊ–Êa classic‚ representing as it does a crucial stage in its performance history. Chronologically speaking‚ it comes after the analogue LP versions of Eugene Ormandy and Wyn Morris‚ but predates Sir Simon Rattle’s much­praised first (Bournemouth) set‚ let alone the piece’s wider acceptance as a repertoire staple. Sanderling made his recording 18 months after conducting the East German première in May 1978. Astonishingly‚ this is its first UK release.

Though other conductors of his generation rejected the whole notion more or less out of hand‚ Sanderling has suggested that while we cannot know how Mahler would have said it‚ we can feel what it is he wished to say. He pored over the ‘completion’ for more than a year‚ perhaps looking for a way to hold everything together in ‘classical’ balance without neglecting the more disruptive elements of Mahler’s invention; he also exchanged ideas with project veteran Berthold Goldschmidt. The result is tremendousÊ–Êa balder sort of reading than we are used to‚ still hugely emotive but with slightly faster speeds‚ fewer subtle inflections and a radically altered text. There can be nothing wrong in principle with such tinkeringÊ–ÊCooke’s confederates have continued their search for an ideal version ever since his deathÊ–Êand‚ although it is sometimes claimed that Cooke added nothing of his own save patches of instrumentation‚ there are portions of the score that call for something more if they are going to be played at all. Several of the changes unveiled by Sanderling were taken up by colleagues: these include the decision to elide the fourth and fifth movements‚ the use of bass clarinet rather than bassoon for Cooke’s pastiche counterpoint from bar 162 of the Adagio (12'51")‚ and the notion that some sort of percussive underpinning is implied by the return of the wrenching‚ nine­note dissonance in the finale.

That said‚ Sanderling stands apart from the minimally interventionist tradition of Rattle and Chailly. He not only preserves some of the speculative scoring suggested and then abandoned by Cooke‚ such as the xylophone in the second Scherzo‚ but also appends additional percussion throughout‚ lending the music an uncomfortable edge reminiscent of Hindemith or Weill. In that fourth movement‚ what Rattle construes as an atmospheric interlude from the A tempo aber sehr ruhig marking at bar 291 (5'36"ff)‚ Sanderling makes very much part of the ongoing texture with additional in­filling from the oboe. By bar 301‚ where Mahler’s original manuscriptÊhas only chords‚ Sanderling is inventing his own melodic line (and has more triangle too). While such micro­surgery is fascinating in itself‚ it’s the visceral conviction and rigorous continuity that impress just as much. The recording‚ almost too immediate‚ with hard­working strings miked close‚ remains vivid and true. The less­than­prestigious Berlin orchestra is even better prepared than the Bournemouth Symphony‚ engagingly ‘provincial’ horns and all. Inevitably‚ Sir Simon’s Berlin Philharmonic sounds more refulgent than either.

After this‚ Sanderling’s nearly contemporaneous Ninth competes less strongly. The playing is not so refined‚ and that fundamentally dour musical personality makes itself felt in the first movement‚ narrowing the emotional range. I found the Ländler more compelling‚ unusually fierce and threatening with some characterful work from the Berliners (some mishaps too). In the Rondo­Burleske the proximity of the microphones does not flatter the strings‚ whose determined articulation turns screechy; the odd technical glitch elsewhere may worry you more than it does me. If you can afford only one of these releases‚ go for the Tenth. The Ninth not only sounds coarser‚ it also spills onto a second CD. Whereas the Tenth may well be Sanderling’s finest hour!

-- Gramophone

More reviews:

Tonny Duggan's survey


Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. In his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, but his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of neglect. After 1945, Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. Mahler's œuvre is relatively small. Aside from early works, most of his are very large-scale works, designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists.


Kurt Sanderling (19 September 1912 – 17 September 2011) was a German Jewish conductor. He fled the Nazi in 1936, left for Soviet Union. From 1942 to 1960, he was joint principal conductor with Yevgeny Mravinsky of the Leningrad Philharmonic. He was also a close friend of Dmitri Shostakovich. He returned to East Germany where he led the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and Dresden Staatskapelle. He made his British debut in 1970 and later became particularly associated with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Sanderling announced his retirement from conducting in 2002. His three sons are also conductors.


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