BEETHOVEN; SHOSTAKOVICH Symphonies No 5 (Sanderling)
Michael Sanderling leads a spick and span Beethoven Fifth. The long streams of quavers in the first movement line up in tidy rows, like soldiers. Even when Beethoven throws the metre off kilter, as he does in the development section (at 3'28"), Sanderling makes sure his players maintain their balance and composure. I doubt this is what Beethoven intended but there’s no question that Sanderling has the Dresden Philharmonic playing at the highest level. Listen, for instance, to the exquisite woodwind solos in the slow movement – most memorably, that soaring clarinet line at 1'51" – or the Handelian splendour of the fugal maggiore passage in the third movement’s Trio. But, as a whole, the performance is simply too low voltage for such volatile music. Even in the wondrous transition to the finale there’s a palpable lack of tension, so the sudden blaze of C major becomes a non sequitur.
Sanderling’s way with Shostakovich’s Fifth is similarly lacking in fire. The strings’ vehement opening volleys feel oddly nonchalant here and this air of emotional detachment permeates the sluggish first movement – sample, say, the listless ostinato accompaniment at 4'12". The Scherzo has more pep, thankfully, but precious little bite; as in the Beethoven, Sanderling has smoothed out the music’s jagged angles. And the symphony’s final pages – taken slowly, as is the current practice – sound neither ironic nor celebratory but dutifully monumental, although audiophiles may appreciate the bass drum’s floor-shaking wallop.
In some respects, Sanderling’s interpretation is the antithesis of Manfred Honeck’s (Reference Recordings, 2/18). Honeck wrings so much emotion from every detail that he loses the symphonic thread; Sanderling seems so intent on maintaining the music’s abstract integrity that he fails to engage the emotions. Curiously, both are at their most compelling in the Largo. Here, at last, Sanderling shows us a tender heart – and the Dresdeners follow suit. How acutely the flute and harp ache in the passage beginning at 2'41", for example; and how chilling is the climax at 9'02" , with the orchestra’s collective tremolando rattling like bones.