Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reissue of fine Bruckner performances from Sanderling and Guilini

Anton Bruckner, Symphonies Nos 7 & 9

Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
Kurt Sanderling (No. 7)
Carlo Maria Guilini (No. 9)

Hänssler Classic SCM CD 94.604, originally published as CD93.027 (Sanderling) and CD93.186 (Guilini).

This 2-CD set is a welcome reissue of two previously published live recordings. The Sanderling 7th Symphony was recorded in Stuttgart on 16 December, 1999, while Guilini’s 9th dates from 20 September 1996 and appears to be the latest Guilini 9th currently available. The packaging is minimal, with no significant program notes. The performances, however, are terrific and highly recommended to those who do not already possess them. The sound is first rate, with very little audience intrusion or peripheral noise.

Kurt Sanderling offers a very self-effacing performance of the 7th, eschewing percussion at the climax of the Adagio. If there is a single word that captures his approach it is “balanced” – the performance is well balanced across movements and between different sections of the orchestra. Sanderling adopts a slow, stately tempo in the Adagio (which comes in at just over 25 minutes, the second slowest of his 9 available recordings). He achieves a real sense of grandeur. The Scherzo and Finale offer a contrasting forward momentum, while remaining sufficiently weighty to counter-balance the Adagio, successfully resolving the great problem of how to sustain the intensity of the slow movement through to the final bars.

“Self-effacing” is not the word that springs to mind to describe Carlo Maria Guilini’s performance of the 9th. Grandeur and monumentality are at the forefront from the opening bars, as he builds up to the first climax in the opening movement. The subsequent change in mood turns  out to be transitory, as Guilini reverts to a broad pacing that skillfully falls just short of the portentous. And so the movement continues, until the massive and effective final climax.

Guilini’s scherzo is suitably driving and demonic, providing a well judged bridge between the two massive slow movements. The Adagio sets a valedictory note right at the beginning. In Guilini’s hands this is definitely a finale, with a final, heroic affirmation in the dissonant climax and then a gently farewell in the coda.

The audience is suitably silenced for a good few seconds before the applause breaks out. And so they should be. This a wonderfully compelling performance, as is Sanderling's. I'm not sure that I understand the marketing logic behind reissuing them together, but I’m glad that Hänssler Classic decided to.