Superb Bruckner Fourth from Kurt Sanderling
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kurt Sanderling (b. 1912) conducted my favorite recorded collection of Brahms Symphonies (with the Dresden Staatskapelle, still available here at Amazon at mid-price) and it doesn't surprise me that he is excellent at Bruckner -- he has also recorded a marvelous Seventh -- as well even though those two composers were supposedly on opposite sides of the raging musical controversy (Wagner vs. Brahms) in the second half of the 19th century. What he brings to both composers is a mixture of gemütlichkeit and incandescence. And here he is aided by the superb Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio (Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks), an orchestra noted, among other things, for its marvelous way with the Austro-German repertoire. What strikes one most about the sound of the BRSO is the terrific blend of the various instrumental choirs; the strings are silken, the winds typically suave yet distinct in the way that German winds can sometimes be. And one must give a particular nod to the brass section (including the horns) which is warmly mellow and simply spectacular in the Scherzo. Hear also that lovely brass chorale in the middle of the first movement. Like butter! All this is helped by extremely clean and clear and yet warm sonics achieved by the engineers in this 1994 broadcast performance.
As always a word must be said about which version the orchestra is playing, as Bruckner's symphonies sometimes have as many as four versions to choose from. The orchestra is heard here in the 1878/1880 version. Bruckner changed a few relatively minor things when he published the symphony in 1888 but this earlier version is the one generally heard.
Of course, the Fourth Symphony, the 'Romantic', is Bruckner's most popular. I often think that is because it is the only one with a sobriquet which in this case Bruckner actually designated on the work's title page. However, it could just as easily be called the 'Nature' Symphony, particularly since the third movement abounds in horn calls, the sort we hear in pieces that attempt to recall hunters in field and forest and Bruckner himself said the first movement recalls 'woodland, bird call, dawn, forest murmurs.'
As with the Brahms symphonies, Sanderling tends to take leisurely tempos, something I am inclined to think is helpful in Bruckner, assuming things don't begin to drag, and indeed that doesn't happen here. What we get is a gemütlich feeling coupled with palpable forward motion (as in the trudging yet mobile second movement). And in the Scherzo there is a feeling of joyful onrush even though the timing is middling when compared to other recordings. Sanderling manages to play up the feeling of mystery in the second movement and, better, he somehow makes the fourth movement, which can seem a bit formless, an almost inevitable summing up. I suspect he does that to some extent by emphasizing the recurrence of themes and rhythms that have appeared in earlier movements.
Hearing this recording several times I was left with a sense of its rightness, and that is a feeling I often get with Sanderling's recordings. For that we can be happy. And fortunately for us he has fathered three sons -- Stefan, Thomas and Michael Sanderling -- who are also fine conductors.