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  • Brahms Symphonies, and Kurt Sanderling.

    I have been listening to a delightful set of recordings of Brahms' four Symphonies.
    {delightful is not quite the optimum word, nor sufficiently comprehensive, to fully describe the performances - I regret my limited vocabulary, but bear with me as I may have some adequate additional descriptions following}

    Staatskapelle Dresden conducted by Kurt Sanderling.

    Sanderling has an amazing way with these works, in particular his dynamic contrasts when there is a powerful or rugged passage, such as in the opening of the 1st symph., followed by a gentler passage, where he drops back the force but keeps a clear ennunciation of all the instruments and maintains the rhythm in the gentler pace.
    The gentler passages are played with affection, but this is not soppy, and can be quite sprightly when required.
    The final movement of the 1st symph. is quite glorious here, and particually when that big {familiar !} melody comes in.

    The way the 3rd symph. is performed here is most enjoyable, as it is performed with sensitivity, but still with wonderful dynamic shadings and quite alive in all the changes of pace and shifts of rhythms - remarkable music which I never would have guessed from the overly serious and somewhat stiff version I first heard of this work -{I forget whose that was, but probably a 1970's era recording - as is this Sanderling and indeed a contrast !}.

    I had heard this version of Brahms 4th symph. years ago - I have the vinyl LP - and it sounds quite listenable on CD.
    This version is not the highly intense type of performance, such as Carlos Kleiber's excellent Vienna version is, thus may take those familiar with Kleiber's and similar some time to adjust, however it is worth persevering with as there is music here.

    One warning - the 2nd symphony - Sanderling's here is not true characteristic Brahms in performance style, however this is not troubling me because he is so musical.
    Kurt Sanderling -{the father, not to be confused with two of his sons who are also conductors - Thomas and Stefan. His third son, Michael, is a cellist}- is too good a conductor to make a mess of music. He always has thought and reason behind what he does. I do not know why he has conducted this symph. in a style somewhat different to what one usually hears for Brahms' 2nd, but whatever his reason is it makes musical sense to me because I am enjoying it and not missing the characteristics of a more Brahmsian performance.
    I like the work when conducted in the known Brahms' style also, and am now happy to have both !
    No, Sanderling has not radically changed it, nor made it in any way unrecognisable, however I have to say for the sake of readers who do not know the work that there is a valid way of conducting this work which one should hear so that one does know more closely what Brahms actually intended.
    A particually good performance of Brahms' 2nd symph. is the Halle Orchestra conducted by Skrowaczewski, and there are likely several very good versions as this is a very popular work and there are numerous recordings of it.

    Second warning - if you decide to buy this Sanderling/Dresden cycle, buy the BMG Eurodisc issue - it has a picture of Brahms on the front.
    Do not buy the RCA Navigator issue -{picture of a sailing ship on the front}- as it apparently has some audible wow and flutter {variations of pitch - for readers who are not familiar with poor quality turntables and similar cassette decks}. I'm guessing that version was mastered from a copy of the original master tape, and that the copy was either made on a faulty tape recorder, or more likely has been stored not evenly wound in a location with excessive changes of temperature and thus the tape has part stretched.

    I do refer to Kurt Sanderling.
    I have not heard his son - Thomas Sanderling's recordings of these works.

    I do refer to Kurt's Dresden cycle.
    I have not heard his Sinfonie Orchester Berlin cycle which he made quite late in his career when he was quite old. It could be quite good, though it is reported he conducted all the symphonies at slower tempi with the Berlin Orch.
    Sanderling is known for use of slow tempi, and he makes a good case for such, however he conducted a little slower than most conductors for his Dresden cycle, and particually for the 2nd symph. , thus I think it would be wise to hear the Dresden cycle before hearing even slower versions.

    Any comments from hearers of his Berlin cycle ?

    Some alternate versions :-

    Skrowaczewski/Halle - very good with 2nd symph. and with the 3rd also, thus I'm confident he/they will be good with the 1st and 4th also.
    {Skrowaczewski doesn't mess up music - at least not that I've heard not read about}.

    For a German conductor - Jochum conducting the LPO - this is his Stereo versions, released on EMI CDs, and not his older Mono versions with the BPO.
    There may be only symph's 1 ; 2 ; 3 available from Jochum in Stereo, but not to worry, because for #4 one can buy the excellent Carlos Kleiber/VPO performance on Deutsche Grammophon.
    {Carlos Kleiber, son of Erich Kleiber - both very good conductors}
    Carlos Kleiber did not like recording, and there is no Brahms' cycle from him, nor a cycle of any composer's symph's so far as I know ...

    The above all have good sound quality - I have not listed the older versions, but if one does not mind some audible limitations, then two classic reference cycles that are not too old are Klemperer's and Boult's.
    Both were originally released on HMV LPs, and are now available on EMI CDs.

    There are older cycles regarded as reference Brahms, however these are in Mono, and old enough to have distict audible limitations, but I'll list a couple if anyone is interested - please ask ...

    If one wants a recent Digitally recorded cycle, then hear Abbado's BPO cycle, as distinct from his older cycle with I think three different orchestras - VPO, LSO and Dresden - across the four works.

    If one wants a USA Orchestra, an obvious choice would be Cleveland with Szell.
    I have not heard this cycle, but I have heard Szell/Cleveland in Brahms' 1st Piano Concerto and the performance was fine.

    As usual though, I do advise listening to at least some of each symph. in the particular cycle before buying, though I'll be surprized if most listeners do not like Kurt Sanderling's, other than listeners who prefer a stricter, taut, or more austere performance styles, or bombast {which is not music really, but some people think that is how Brahms, and Beethoven, should be played !}.

    Comments anyone ?

    Last edited by 2bluechris; 04 September 2007, 07:36 Tuesday. Reason: correct spelling

  • #2
    Wish I could comment, just can't as I'm by no means well versed on Brahms or how he should sound, although I do recognize how very fine a composer he was.

    But, I wouldn't know how to evaluate individual recordings, other than to say that my favorite symphonic disc is the Kleiber No. 4, which just is a beautifully balanced and flows wonderfully. I definitely prefer the Klemperer set to Karajan's, but the sound quality I find lacking.

    Have ordered Solti with the CSO (before I read this thread) and am interested in whether I will find it as great as do the many fans of this set.


    • #3
      Glad you are enjoying the Sanderling Brahms symphony cycle. Here's my take on some alternative Brahms symphonies collections currently available in stereo:

      • Otto Klemperer / London Philharmonia Orchestra – stately, sonorous, authoritative and exciting. Although the recorded sound is not up to today’s highest standards, collectively, these are still perhaps the best performances of these symphonies on record.

      • Bruno Walter / Columbia Symphony Orchestra – a bit more mellow, but sufficiently dramatic to grip your attention and please your musical sensibilities – a close second.

      • George Szell / Cleveland Orchestra - If Szell lifted his baton on any work, and a microphone was on, the results were worth having in your collection. Not the strongest set overall (the Fourth suffers by comparison to the others) but the rest are so good, I can find another Fourth to fill the gap if I'm looking for "best in class" (or nearly so), and since, these days, the Szell performances aren't actually sold as a set, if you aren't planning to include multiple sets of these symphonies in your collection, it might even make more sense to buy Szell's First, Second and Third and substitute a Fourth by someone else (see comment below about Kleiber's Fourth) .

      • Charles Mackerras / Scottish Chamber Orchestra – ultra-clean modern recorded sound, with an interesting performance mixing modern and period instruments. Due to this, the brass is emphasized in unexpected ways. Some love it, others, uhm, don’t. :>) (I do. This set is a permanent resident in my multi-disk changer.)

      • Nicolas Harnoncourt / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – excellent modern performances, worthy of inclusion in your collection, or at least a "serious listen". Not as ground-breaking as his baroque-era interpretations, but solidly in the audience pleasing camp with dynamic sound and dramatic changes of tempo.

      Of course there are outstanding performances of individual symphonies, including the unforgettable reading of the Fourth by Carlos Klieber, which should be in everyone’s collection for its inspired musicality along with his Beethoven Fifth, about which I’m not really going out on a limb by saying it is the one that sets the standard by which all other performances (of the Beethoven Fifth) must be measured.

      Also, as a bonus, if you are willing to listen to mono recordings, Furtwangler's and Bruno Walter's earlier recordings of the Brahms symphonies are incredible.


      What you DON'T say may be held against you...


      • #4
        on alternate recordings ...

        Hi Burke,

        you've listed the older Bruno Walter recordings I would have for listeners not concerned about audio quality, and in addition one could hear Weingartner's recordings.

        Mackerras is unpredictable for me - I like him on some things, eg: he does very well conducting Dvorak's "Rusalka", but I find him a bit middle of the road almost easy listening with some works, technically well played but little soul or insight {when relevant}.
        I haven't heard his Brahms, and I'm glad you qualified your comment.

        I haven't heard Harnoncourt's either, but if they're anything like his Beethoven #7 and #9 then I suppose there will be all the details of the Score strongly portraited - and that is quite fascinating - though my neighbour and I were both exhausted after listening to each {on different days}.

        Given that John Eliot Gardiner made an interesting recording of Brahms' "German Requiem" in what is said to be the performance style of Brahms' era, I'll give one of the Mackerras recordings a listen if I see one.
        I don't know whether the Chamber Orchestra will render them too small for my liking, or whether I'll be pleasantly surprised ...
        Gardiner's of "German Requiem" is not small !

        Originally posted by Danbry39
        I wouldn't know how to evaluate individual recordings, other than to say that my favorite symphonic disc is the Kleiber No. 4, which just is a beautifully balanced and flows wonderfully. I definitely prefer the Klemperer set to Karajan's, but the sound quality I find lacking.

        Have ordered Solti with the CSO (before I read this thread) and am interested in whether I will find it as great as do the many fans of this set.
        Keith, with the initial three conductors you listed and your preferences there, I think you are evaluating individual recordings quite well, and beginning to hear the Brahms' sound.

        Now it will be interesting to read later what you think of Solti's ...
        I haven't seen any of the discussions where his have been recommended, thus I don't know if recommended by Brahms fans or by Solti fans {which there are, and for whom he could do little wrong, as with the Karajan fans}, though I'd be very surprised if any comprehensive discussion including Chicago Symph. Orch. Brahms' recordings didn't also include Cleveland Orch. recordings, ie: Solti versus Szell.



        • #5
          Yep, I'll be curious as well.


          • #6
            Keith, I checked two usually reliable sources and it seems Solti is a worthy contender with his CSO Brahms symph's, thus its now whether you happen to like they way they perform the music.
            When you've had time to digest this set do post your thinking about these with reference to your Klemperer and Kleiber versions.



            • #7
              Received them today. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to give a listen this weekend, but, again, I wouldn't consider my opinion worth too much on Brahms. He's one I've listened to a lot, but not concentrated on enough.


              • #8
                thats how one begins to get to understand a Composer, and others ...

                Hey, but you know what you like, and have said so, thus comparisons of Preference can be made.
                The more one hears of a Composers works from a variety of performers, the more likely one is to gain some understanding of how such may have been intended to sound.

                Some bits in Brahms' 3rd symph. have me thinking of something I've heard in a symph. of Mahlers, as if he may have developed his idea from the Brahms.
                No, there is no Copying, that I can remember, but more an inspiration in a similar style.
                I've forgotten in which of Mahlers, but that is no problem as I'll hear it again where-ever it is.



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