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Ionarts at Large: Sanderling Jr. for Muti

Kurt Sanderling was too great a conductor for Michael Sanderling (b.1967) not to be introduced as his youngest son. He will know to take it as a compliment of his father’s achievements, not belittlement of his own—very considerable—skills. Thursday and Friday, February 19th and 20th, he had the opportunity to display those skills after jumping in to replace Riccardo Muti (down with a cold) in two concerts with the BRSO on just a few hours notice. Shuttled down from Berlin Monday night to take over rehearsals Tuesday morning, he was able to keep the first half of the program with the popular Musorgsky “Night on Bald Mountain” and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, replacing only the planned Paul Hindemith Symphony in E-flat, a rarity, with Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony. (Certainly, of all conductors to replace Muti, Sanderling is the only to do Muti’s hair justice.)

In the Musorgksy, he ripped through the “Night on Bald Mountain” in a manner more snappy and explosive than the BRSO tends to play under the gentler hands of Mariss Jansons. If the last bit of precision, here as in the other pieces, was lacking, it was made up for with a palpable sense of merry exuberance.

Under most circumstances, a Dvořák Cello Concerto with the first chair of the orchestra’s cello section would indicate stop-gap programming—with predictably modest results. If the (planned) conductorship of Muti did not already dispel any such thoughts, the quality of young Sebastian Klinger’s playing (of which his Bach Suites, released last year, are proof enough) would. Part of the BRSO’s excellence stems from the individual excellence of its players and certainly most first chairs could be respectable soloists in their own right.

That said, the actual performance was a disappointment. There was beauty and more than ample facility, but the sound of Klinger’s cello remained contained instead of soaring throughout the Herkulessaal, as if his instrument had caught the cold, too. The interpretations sounded a touch labored and shy. Perhaps the largest deficit in Klinger’s performance was the lack of soloist-attitude. With terrific contributions from the flute (Henrik Wiese, loud but beautiful) and the first violin (Andreas Röhn, who made his brief solo part in the last movement stand out with echt-Viennese intensity), the concerto got better as it went on, with Klinger finally hitting his stride in the last five minutes.

Tchaikovsky’s “Winter Dreams” Symphony—appropriate as Munich is covered by a thick blanket of snow—was driven at a clip that prohibited a sugar rush and showed it for the lovely work—full of touches of his ballet music in the first movement—that it is. Resigned to lurking in the shadow of its bigger siblings, Symphonies Four, Five, and Six, the work will surprise upon every hearing with its quality. The BRSO must have taken to it like fish to water under Sanderling’s guidance: romantic fervor was plentiful, chocolaty hues from the strings in the fourth movement, outstandingly executed dynamic nuances throughout, silences that were meaningful, not portentous, and a rocking, swaying finale made a case for Michael Sanderling to be every bit as good a conductor as he was and is a cellist. I should be surprised if the music world was not to hear and see more of him, soon.

The BRSO will play three concerts at Carnegie Hall on March 13th, 14th, and 15th. They will bring the commissioned Shchedrin and Widmann pieces, Brahms and Beethoven symphonies, and Mozart and Prokofiev concertos with Emanuel Ax and Julia Fischer.

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Musorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain et al., Reiner / CSO -
RCA Living Stereo
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Dvořák, Cello Concerto, Dumky Trio, Queyras / Belohlávek / Prague PO - Harmonia Mundi
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Tchaikovsky, Symphony No.1 et al., M.Tilson Thomas / BSO -
DG Originals

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