Sunday, August 12, 2018

Historical performances from SWR Classic (Sanderling and Hindemith conduct Bruckner and Rachmaninov)

Bruckner, Anton                      Symphony No. 7
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
Kurt Sanderling
SWR Classic 19410CD

Bruckner, Anton                      Symphony No. 7
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR
Paul Hindemith
SWR Classic 19417CD

Rachmaninov, Sergei              Symphony No. 3
Mussorgsky                             Prelude to Act 1, Kovanshchina
Radio-Sinfonie0rchester Stuttgart des SWR
Kurt Sanderling
SWR Classic 19050CD

SWR Classic is the in-house label for the SWR (Südwestrundfunk = Southwest German Broadcasting Company), issuing recordings from three principal orchestras –Baden-Baden and Freiburg (combined), Saarbrücken and Kaiserlautern (combined), and Stuttgart. Among SWR’s many releases comes a very welcome set of historical recordings from the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, including these three recordings, which have been digitally remastered from original tapes in the SWR archives.

The Stuttgart orchestra has a very distinguished history. Founded In 1945 by the occupying Allied forces, it has had some celebrated principal conductors, including Sergiu Celibidache, Neville Marriner, and Roger Norrington. It also hosted a veritable panoply of visiting conductors, including the two represented here, Kurt Sanderling and Paul Hindemith.

This performance of the Third Symphony was recorded in March 1995, when Sanderling was in his 80’s. Sanderling spent much of his early career in Russia, after leaving Nazi Germany in 1936. He had a particular affinity for Russian music in general, and in particular the music of Rachmaninov, whose symphonies he thought to be sadly underrated. The Third is a powerful symphony, highly expressive but with subtle orchestration. Sanderling gives a fine performance. The disc also offers a welcome bonus of the Prelude to Mussorsky’s unfinished opera Kovanshchina, evoking the Moscow river at dawn.

Sanderling’s Romantic style is very much to the fore in his December 1999 performance of Bruckner’s Seventh, which he performs in the Nowak edition. His approach is expansive, taking 71 minutes for the symphony (longer than the majority of performances listed in John Berky’s Bruckner discography) and 25 minutes for the Adagio, which is particularly successful. But he is in no way self-indulgent (in the manner of Celibidache, for example, who somehow manages to get 86 minutes out of the Berlin Philharmonic). Sanderling comes across as a conductor of great discipline, although definitely an old school Bruckner conductor.

Paul Hindemith is certainly better known as a composer than as a conductor (he was also a leading viola virtuoso), but he led (and recorded with) many of the leading orchestras of his time, particularly after WWII, when he began to wind down his viola-playing career. This recording of Bruckner’s Seventh dates from June 1958,five years before his death in 1963. As might be expected from a composer famous for his neo-classicism, his approach is much more restrained than Sanderling’s. His performance (of the Gutman edition, which is fairly similar to the Nowak edition) lasts only 59 minutes, with the Adagio a full seven minutes shorter than Sanderling. But it is compelling. The composer of the Matthis der Maler symphony was himself a devotee of counterpoint and clearly is at home in Bruckner’s harmonic language and musical architecture.

The sound quality on all three discs is excellent, even on the Hindemith recording from 60 years ago. I look forward to more fine performances from the SWR backlist.

Thielemann's Bruckner 1 and 3 on Blu-ray

Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 1
Staatskapelle Dresden
Christian Thielemann
C Major 744704          (Blu-ray)

Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 3
Staatskapelle Dresden
Christian Thielemann

C Major 740904          (Blu-ray)

With these two performances, Christian Thielemann’s consistently fine Bruckner cycle with the Staatskapelle Dresden approaches its end. There is only No. 2 left to go. It is a little unusual to end a Bruckner cycle with the early symphonies, but here it works well. Thielemann gives powerful performances that highlight continuities with the later, more developed symphonies.

The recording of Symphony No. 1, from a performance at the Philharmonie Munich on September 6, 2017, is actually the first recording of the 1968 Linz version, as edited by Thomas Röder in 2016. This is a lightly revised version of Bruckner’s original 1866 score, prepared for the symphony’s first public performance, and so it offers a chance to hear the symphony as it was heard by a doubtless bemused audience in Linz on May 5, 1868 – the first public performance of any of Bruckner’s symphonies. (The original 1866 score, prepared by William Carragan, has been recorded by Georg Tintner and Gerd Schaller, and differs only slightly from this version.)

The First may be the least known of Bruckner’s symphonies, but it is certainly not a piece of juvenilia (quite apart from the fact that Bruckner was 42 when he composed it). Bruckner’s harmonic innovation is on full display. There are sustained dissonances, particularly in the Finale, and some of what subsequently became Bruckner’s characteristic devices, such as sudden stop in mid-movement. Thielemann and the Staatskapelle bring out the weightiness of the piece (while doing justice to the fine part-writing, particularly for wind). 

The Symphony No. 3 is played here in the 1877 version (Nowak edition). Thielemann makes a strong case for this symphony, which has often been maligned (most famously by Robert Simpson). It is more rough-hewn than the later masterpieces, but in the right hands that can be translated into dynamism and energy. This is perhaps the first of Bruckner’s truly heroic symphonies and this performance does not hold back, coming to a triumphant conclusion in the coda of the finale that is met with rapturous applause by the audience in the Philharmonie Munich.

As with all the discs so far in this Bruckner cycle, the production values are first-rate. The two videographers (Andreas Morell for No. 1 and Elisabeth Malzer for No. 3) use the cameras to good effect to shed light on Bruckner’s orchestration (although I wish they would pan out a little less). The sound quality is excellent – I listened in PCM stereo, but DTS-HD 5.0 surround sound is also an option. My only minor quibble is with the liner notes, which are rather sketchy (the notes for No. 1 do not distinguish between the “real” Linz version recorded here and the subsequent 1877 revision more often described as the Linz version, despite being prepared in Vienna). But this is a minor blemish on two discs that live up to the high standards of this impressive Bruckner cycle.