Is there, I wonder,
any other profession in which an individual can be at their
peak at the age of 84? So it seems for conductor Günter Wand,
here recorded live at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in 1996.
In his later years (he died in 2002), Wand made quite a few
live recordings, notably of several Bruckner symphonies with
the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. However, they were often
patched together from multiple concerts; this is a real “one-off”.
And here he is conducting an orchestra with which he had a much
closer association and with whom he had earlier recorded all
the Bruckner symphonies.
the Sturm and Drang period and the highs of the Paris
symphonies it is not surprising that Haydn’s 76th
symphony is relatively unknown. Wand certainly looks younger
than his years as he sets the orchestra off in a work which
apparently he performed quite often. The playing is beautifully
crisp in the opening Allegro and Wand finds considerable
depths in the contrasted sections of the ensuing Adagio.
If the Minuet and Trio of this work are unremarkable, the finale
makes up for it – Haydn’s sense of fun is given full rein here.
Wand was in total control and brought the work to its charming
end before the audience had realised it – with a complete absence
Whilst the Haydn
is delightful, the prospect of Wand’s reading of Bruckner’s
Sixth is surely the potential reason to invest in this DVD.
As far as I am aware, he only made one studio recording of the
work, way back in 1976. When it was reissued a few years ago
my colleague John Quinn was not too impressed (see review),
particularly in relation to the fast tempo adopted in the opening
movement. Marked Maestoso, tempo is critical here and,
this time, Wand’s is virtually identical to that of Klemperer
whose 1964 reading is generally accepted as the gold-standard.
After a precise opening, there are a couple of dodgy moments
early on: the first horn fluffs an entry at letter B and somebody
is playing too loudly soon afterwards. In both cases the camera
is on Wand and his disappointment is visible. But from there
on the performance goes from strength to strength. By the end
of the first movement all is forgiven in a blaze of glory. In
general, the playing of the brass and horns is very impressive
although the sound is balanced a little too much in their favour,
relative to the strings.
The adagio is the
highlight of this performance. Here Wand’s experience in Bruckner
is evident in every bar as he draws playing of great conviction
from the strings in particular. The tempo is kept rock steady
and Wand refuses to impose himself in any way, just letting
a stream of powerful music speak for itself. This is probably
the finest performance of the slow movement I have yet heard.
The scherzo and
finale are almost as impressive as Wand continues to find the
right tempi and demonstrate his complete mastery of the architecture
of this symphony. At the end the audience does not immediately
applaud and Wand’s priorities are to first to wipe his brow
and then acknowledge his players - it seems an age before he
turns to the audience.
As indicated above,
the balance between orchestral sections is imperfectly captured
but I have no other complaints about the sound quality. The
camerawork is generally good although the importance of the
cellos in this work is not reflected by the number of times
they are seen in action. The documentation is reasonable on
the works, a little light on Wand and tells us about neither
the orchestra, the occasion nor the Schleswig-Holstein festival.
The year 1996 was the centenary of Bruckner’s death.
Two fine performances
captured on the wing from a conductor who was still flying very
high in his mid-eighties. Admirers of Günter Wand will need
to have this one.