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Anton BRUCKNER (1824–1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)

Symphony No. 8 in B minor Unfinished
NDR Sinfonieorchester/Günter Wand
rec. live, Musik-und-Kongressehalle, Lübeck, 8 July 2001
DVD. DTS Stereo. LPCM Stereo
TDK DV-COWAND4 [100:00]
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This DVD gives a pretty accurate impression of the art of Günter Wand conducting one of his own orchestras. Much of his career was spent with radio orchestras of one kind or another. The NDRSO was his for many years.

Towards the end of his life his repertoire was reined in to such an extent that many of his concerts included one of Bruckner’s three last symphonies. I remember attending what I think was his last Proms concert on 24 August 2001. It was with this orchestra and the programme was the same as this DVD. Like all of his Bruckner concerts at the Proms, it was a moving experience. This DVD brought it all back. I found the experience of listening to this issue very moving indeed.

My only disappointment was that I was hoping to hear the performances given in Lübeck a few years before these but in Lübeck Cathedral as part of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival. In the Cathedral performance Wand was in better heart. Also the Cathedral acoustic made the performance sound exactly right. It has been issued on an RCA CD. I have no idea whether this earlier performance was televised, but one lives in hope. That said, the present issue is superb. What it loses in atmosphere, it gains in clarity of sound.

Günter Wand was appointed Honorary Conductor for Life of the NDRSO. Here they play for him with a commitment and spirit that many will enjoy immensely. One factor to be borne in mind is the physical appearance of the conductor. He was very frail at the time and it shows in his restricted movements and shaky stance. Using his eyes and facial expressions, which are very revealing, he is still capable of making the orchestra play like angels. The quality of ensemble is also very high given the frailty of their leader. He was to die the year after this concert, and with his passing, we lost a very important interpreter of the German classical repertoire.

The Schubert Eighth steals into the picture, as it should. The orchestra plays miraculously, given the faltering beat, but it is clear enough to get the performance underway without accident. As it progresses, Wand loosens up and becomes firmer in his beat. With his very clear facial expressions, the orchestra, who must have played this very often, know exactly what to do. Wand’s right hand provides the clear indication of tempo, whilst the left shapes the phrasing in support of his eyes and facial expressions. He shows little emotion, but you can see that at the close of the slow second movement he is pleased with the performance, as is the capacity audience.

The second half of the concert consisted of one work, Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony; something of a party piece for Wand. The orchestra is collectively inspired to play this work superbly well. The end of the first movement is almost overwhelming in its intensity and provides a very satisfactory conclusion to the symphonic argument. The short scherzo second movement gallumphs its way through in a very impressive manner, and shows that there is no lack of fire in the conductor. We then move on to the massive third and final movement which contains the emotional centre of this magnificent symphony. As it moves on its inexorable journey, I was impressed by the almost seamless progress of this movement. By the time we reach the section about five minutes before the end - which sounds a little like Vaughan Williams - the release of tension is very moving. Once again, at the end, the audience goes wild, with every reason.

A superb DVD, acting as a wonderful reminder to those who have witnessed this conductor’s art live, and for those who haven’t a fine performance in its own right.

John Phillips



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