BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
John Patrick - Director, Executive Producer
Recording: BBC Studio 7, Manchester, 17 July 1982
The players may sometimes go astray: listen to the principal flute in the opening Andante comodo, the first trumpet in the Landler, or the violins in the Rondo-Burleske. And the ensemble may occasionally appear unsteady: check out the shaky tempo changes in the Landler and the Rondo-Burleske or the uneven dynamic contrasts in the closing Adagio. But there's no denying the East German conductor Kurt Sanderling was on to something in this 1982 recording of Mahler's Ninth Symphony with the BBC Philharmonic. There is an open-hearted directness in the phrasing here, plus a concentrated intensity in the lines and an overwhelming power in the climaxes that mark this performance as the work of a true Mahler conductor, albeit a true Mahler conductor who doesn't seem entirely comfortable with the players in front of him. While Sanderling's fans may prefer his more urgent 1979 recording with the Berlin Symphony or his more polished 1992 recording with the Philharmonia, they may still want to hear this recording to see what the conductor was up to in between. BBC Music's stereo sound is a bit dry and a tad close with sufficient clarity in solo passages, but a hooded quality when the whole orchestra gets going.
All Music Guide
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Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.9 in D major
Dmitri Shostakovich was dismayed to find that he "kept running into people who had heard of Mahler and Bruckner, but had never actually looked at a score ... not even once!" But that Kurt Sanderling, one of his most enduring and influential collaborators, had done so, and clearly at length, is powerfully evidenced in his three commercially available recordings of Gustav Mahler's last completed symphony. The performance on this CD, in which Sanderling directs the newly re-named BBC Philharmonic (formerly the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra), was recorded at the BBC's Oxford Road studios in Manchester on 17 July 1982.Three years previously, he had documented the work in Berlin, and would return to it again in 1991 with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Kurt Sanderling was born was born in Arys,East Prussia (now part of Poland), on 19 September 1912. Following studies in Konigsberg and Berlin, the nineteen-year-old Sanderling, who had already made a name for himself as a pianist and chamber music collaborator, joined the staff of Berlin's Stadtische Oper as repetiteur and assistant conductor in 1931.
Two years later, during the early ascendency of Adolf Hitler and the rise of National Socialism, he left the opera, accepting a post with the Berlin Jewish Cultural Federation. But by 1936, the Nazis' anti-Semitic policies forced Sanderling to leave Germany, seeking refuge not towards the West (as did so many Jewish artists, musicians, and intellectuals), but eastwards, within the Soviet Union. Relatives in Moscow had managed to obtain a visa for him,"but as a newcomer," he recalled when interviewed by Hans Bitterlich,"! failed to understand how dangerous it all was".
After serving as assistant conductor to Georges Sebastian at the Moscow Radio Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling became chief conductor of the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra in 1939, remaining in the post until 1942. A successful guest-conducting engagement in Leningrad led to his appointment as co-conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside the legendary Yevgeny Mravinsky. Sanderling's personal association with Shostakovich began in 1943, when the composer travelled to attend rehearsals of his Eighth Symphony in Novosibirsk, the Siberian capital, to which the orchestra had been evacuated. Together with its small administrative staff and two conductors, the Philharmonic returned to Leningrad as World War II reached its close in 1944, whereupon Kurt Sanderling also joined the teaching faculty of the city's conservatory.
In 1960 the Soviet authorities sent him back to East Berlin, charged with the task of rebuilding the ailing symphony orchestra of the communist sector. The Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester had been formed eight years previously; underfunded and without inspirational leadership, it was no match for its glamorous Western sibling, Herbert von Karajan's Berliner Philharmoniker. Not that it mattered greatly, for a quarter of a century after the Nazis had chased him out of Germany, Sanderling was again at the helm of a Berlin orchestra. Throughout the next seventeen years, Kurt Sanderling revived its fortunes through innovative programming, a series of commercial recordings (many now re-issued on the Berlin Classics label) and extensive touring, mainly within the Soviet bloc countries. He also directed the most prestigious of East Germany's orchestras, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and Dresden Staatskapelle, acting as chief conductor of the latter between 1964 and 1967.
Kurt Sanderling also began to make guest appearances at Europe's major festivals, including those of Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and Edinburgh. Although he had made his UK debut in 1970, his critically acclaimed association with London's Philharmonia Orchestra began with a recorded survey of the Beethoven symphonies in 1980. He accepted the title of Conductor Emeritus of the Philharmonia in 1992. During the final phase of his career, he also worked closely with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, Bavarian Radio, Cleveland, and Yomiuri Nippon orchestras.
"I discussed Mahler's Ninth Symphony with my father in a very practical, detailed and serious way," explains Sanderling's eldest son (by his first marriage), the conductor Thomas Sanderling. "He later presented to me as a gift his score of the Ninth Symphony, and the set of orchestral parts he used in his own performances and recordings ... He was always very aware that Mahler was constantly making changes, and so especially with this work, one has to devote every spare second to its mastery.
"My father probably began to study the symphony in St Petersburg, but he never conducted it with the orchestra there. His approach to Mahler; and indeed to all music, was very much like that of Hans Swarowsky - one had to dig in and digest the score and not listen too much to the opinions of others. Of course, he came from a generation of conductors who did not like to refer to recordings ... one had to live with the score! And obviously he knew conductors like Walter and Klemperer, both of whom had known Mahler personally ... And then there was Oskar Fried, another early disciple of Gustav Mahler; who had also been active in Russia at various times. My father was therefore very much a part of this same culture.
"As a conductor; what pre-occupied him was the clearest realisation of the potential of the musical document, and I think one may sense that insistence upon clarity of execution from his recordings of the Ninth. That generation still had a conservative musical ideology, and even if there were reservations - maybe about questions of tempo, attack, phrasing, many of which are still problematic with Mahler even today - he always strove for accuracy, precision and logic. "One might sum up my father's ethos by putting forward the view that for him, every single performance was, if you will, a creative laboratory, but the major issues were always the practical ones!" It is a view reflected, coincidentally or otherwise, in the title Kurt Sanderling selected for his memoirs, Andere machten Geschichte, ich machte Musik (Others made history, I made music), published shortly after his retirement in 2002. As Norman Lebrecht observed at the time, "Many who remember Karajan or Karl Bdhm only in their dotage, dozing off in mid-symphony, struggle to picture them in their pomp.The fault is theirs, not ours: they should have checked out, like Sanderling, still erect and alert. All else is pathos."
- Michael Jameson (2008)