WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Soloists; Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus/Kurt Sanderling
CATALOGUE NO: HR 705222 (distr. Complete) Reissue (1981)
How to cram all nine of Beethoven’s Symphonies on to just five discs? Disky has managed it like this. Disc one of its reissued set of Kurt Sanderling’s Philharmonia recordings, which first appeared on EMI in the early Eighties, begins with the first three movements of the First Symphony before proceeding with the complete Eroica. Disc five opens with the disembodied Finale of the First as a strange curtain raiser to the complete Ninth. This is an absurdity. So is the absence of any booklet notes.
In general, Sanderling’s way with this music is careful and rather grandiloquent, reminding one sometimes of the aged Klemperer. There are several tenuous beginnings: to the Sixth, for example; to the Seventh, where the chording is far from unanimous and where Sanderling brings to bear an insufficient tension before the onset of the fast music (also a mite slow, and with poor horn tuning to boot), and to the Eighth, more than a touch too ponderous. The finales don’t escape either. That of the First hardly skips on its course, and that of the Fourth, which should really feel as though it is flying by the seat of its pants, frankly does not. On the other hand, Sanderling certainly gives the Third and the Fifth their due with tough performances of both, and I rather admire the expansiveness of the slow movement of the Ninth, the feel of phrase and overall shape well sustained. The cast of soloists here is excellent, though the voice of John Tomlinson sounds eerily unformed, already large but not yet ripe, not yet under complete control. Recordings are often warmer more than they are clear and although the release is perfectly serviceable I can see no special reason for seeking this version out when the field is already so crowded with excellence and one can choose performances that have the fresh inventiveness and immediacy of those played by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on Teldec. Stephen Pettitt