Kurt Sanderling Centenary Concert – Philharmonia Orchestra/David Afkham with Arabella Steinbacher

Coriolan Overture, Op.62
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61

Arabella Steinbacher (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
David Afkham

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 6 December, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hal

Kurt Sanderling (1912-2011)The career of German conductor Kurt Sanderling spanned the twentieth-century; he spent much of it at the sharp end of history. Work took him from Nazi Germany (his ancestry not up to their ‘standards’) and on to the Soviet Union, where he assisted Mravinsky in Leningrad and came to know Shostakovich. He became a major fixture of the East German orchestral scene after returning there in 1960 and, in later years, became a familiar and much-loved colleague with the Philharmonia Orchestra. He gave his last concert with the orchestra in 2000; he died last year, two days short of his 99th-birthday. This Philharmonia concert, marking Sanderling’s centenary, sampled the Romantic German repertoire with which he became particularly associated.

David AfkhamThe aggressive posturing of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture was etched on David Afkham’s body as he directed a fierce performance. Strings struck with real bite, though the sting was at odds with the relatively broad tempo which robbed the work of the last degree of venom. Its subdued coda limped away, though, with appropriately sullen resignation – just the kind of concentrated quietness that Afkham proved good at marshalling as the concert progressed.

Brahms’s majestic Third Symphony was less convincing. It wasn’t a bad performance, but, while Afkham demonstrated an admirable (and all too rare) reluctance to interfere with and ‘improve’ on the composer’s work, Afkham’s direction was so steady that I longed for a little shaping and detail. Each movement flowed beautifully – it is no surprise to learn that Bernard Haitink is mentor to the young German – but too much of the ecstasy and release of the first movement and aching expression of the third passed without fluctuation that it all became rather dull. There was though some masterful work from the orchestra: the restrained yearning of the horn (Katy Woolley) in the Poco allegretto stood out, as did the warmly balanced brass playing at the Symphony’s peaceful conclusion.

Arabella Steinbacher. ©Robert VanoArabella Steinbacher stripped away some of the deadening portentousness that can dog performances of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and injected lightness of being and teasing charm. Her way with it was contended and sunny and her performance captivated more than her relatively small and occasionally constricted tone suggested it might; Afkham and the Philharmonia’s accompaniment was considerately scaled to Steinbacher’s sound. Ideally the long first movement calls for a greater deepening of insight and involvement as it progresses than Steinbacher provided, but her carefree way with the improvisatory aspects of the Larghetto, robust vigour in the finale and dazzling command of Fritz Kreisler’s cadenzas sealed an effective and very enjoyable interpretation.

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