BEETHOVEN Symphony No 3 SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No 10
A highly original concept, the subtext: music and dictatorship. As Michael Sanderling himself implies in a persuasive preface to the CD’s booklet-note, the aim of this undertaking (these words written specifically with regard to the Shostakovich) is ‘to express solidarity with the oppressed and to find a language for their immeasurable suffering’. So far, so understandable. Given that Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor, Beethoven’s musical portrait could happily morph into an idealised portrait without reference to any specific individual. As to Shostakovich’s brutal ‘Stalin’ Allegro in his Tenth Symphony, that stands as a reflection of evils that are remembered by many who are still living.
The performances are interesting. Sanderling nudges the Eroica’s opening Allegro con brio (plus repeat) with some gently underlined emphases. His tempos are swift, his sense of balance impeccable, though I could have done without the conspicuous hairpin towards the end of the first movement’s coda (at 16'42"). The ‘Marcia funebre’ is both dramatic and flexible, though by pushing forwards at key points in the musical argument the way he does Sanderling tends to undermine the sort of gravitas that makes his programming point viable. The Shostakovich works well, but don’t expect Stalin’s scherzo to pack the sort of savage punch that Ančerl, Mravinsky or Stokowski (in Chicago) brought to it.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is a good performance that never falsifies the musical facts. The problem is that neither does it convey the outrage and burning inspiration that caused the music to be written in the first place; neither performance does that.
To be fair to the excellent Michael Sanderling, I can’t think of many living conductors who could bring this project off with quite the requisite degree of gravity or intensity. Simon Rattle or Kristjan Järvi, maybe; but who else? A possible solution, at least in terms of CDs, would be to take a conductor who lived through those terrible times (Michael Sanderling was born 14 years after Stalin’s death) – Mravinsky, say, Kurt Sanderling (Michael’s father) or Rudolf Barshai – and use their recordings to make the point. All three gave us knowingly expressed versions of both symphonies. Michael Sanderling offers warm, structurally sound, well-balanced performances, always musically phrased with well-judged climaxes (especially in the Beethoven) but neither performance rages or protests enough to force us to realise parallels between the two works, or to think in terms of relating either to the troubled world of human affairs.