Günter Wand is one of the great Bruckner
interpreters, whose death earlier this year marked the end of an era.
This reissue of his 1981 recording of the Third Symphony with his Cologne
orchestra is most welcome, since it matches the expectations Wand's
credentials would lead us to expect.
Not that this becomes a clearcut first recommendation;
far from it in fact. To begin with, the edition of the score he chooses
to perform will raise the hackles of some Bruckner afficionados, because
this third version from 1889 cuts a good deal of music. The 1877 version
is fuller, the original 1873 score longer still.
The answer, from the enthusiast's point
of view is to own all three and to understand how and why they are different.
In reality that is hardly possible or desirable for the majority of
collectors, in which case this version as performed by Wand has the
advantage of a tauter, shorter approach, though some of the continuity
is compromised. But Wand more than most (more than anyone?) knew what
he was doing, and if he opted to play this version then we must take
The first movement begins with a steady
rhythmic pulse, against which the distinctive trumpet theme, which so
impressed Wagner, is announced. The shaping, phrasing and tempi are
ideal, while the acoustic as captured in the recording allows for clarity
if a certain dryness. The Cologne orchestra plays with distinction and
commitment, and the climax of the first movement is at once sonorous
and urgently compelling.
The slow movement is beautifully done, the
ebb and flow of the musical line phrased and shaped with consummate
care and understanding. Perhaps the string sound might be more ample
in the fully scored passages, but whether this minor caveat is the result
of the playing, the recording or the remastering is difficult to tell.
In any case it is hardly damaging.
The subtle rhythmic interplays which inform
the third movement scherzo have been perfectly judged, so too the recorded
balance which gives so much detail. As for the finale, this version
makes the movement shorter and less monumental than the earlier editions,
but there is no lack of substance in Wand's interpretation. The second
subject, which combines polka and chorale, is nicely shaped. Bruckner
said of this music: 'In the tavern there is dancing, while next door
the master lies in his coffin.' When the final climax rises up and the
symphony's first theme returns, so as to set the seal of unity on the
whole conception, one certainly feels that a satisfying and profound
journey has reached its conclusion.
For Gunter Wand was a master Brucknerian
and his performances set a standard by which other must be judged.