Günter Wand, who died earlier
this year (2002), could be claimed as the Bruckner
conductor of our generation. For after years
of relative obscurity in provincial Germany,
from the mid-1970s his Bruckner performances
in particular made him an international celebrity.
And the Fifth Symphony is of course one of the
great challenges for any orchestra and conductor.
The music is thankfully free from the editorial complexities
which bedevil so many of Bruckner's symphonies, unless, that is, the
performance features the revised version by Franz Schalk. Wand most
certainly does not.
However, this is not a new issue, but rather a remastering
of a performance recorded back in 1974. It does credit to the recording
team that the music sounds so well, and at an appealing price the disc
has much to offer. That said, the sound is far from ideal, and sometimes,
as in the string music which adds so gloriously to the sonorous climaxes
of the slow movement, the results seem rather dry and lacking in bloom.
It is, however, in the epic outer movements of this
large four-movement symphony that judgements must rest. And Wand is
a master as far as tempi and phrasing are concerned. It is not that
he is strait-laced, his understanding of rubato is exemplary and the
music is characterised to perfection. If the results are ultimately
less satisfying than in his later remake with the North German Radio
Orchestra, that is down to the recorded ambience more than anything
else. Not that anyone buying the present disc would necessarily find
cause for complaint. But the sound in the later version does open out
The playing of the Cologne Orchestra is dedicated and,
when necessary, virtuoso in disciple and attack. Thus the driving (and
occasionally subtle) rhythms of the scherzo make a strong impression.
The brass acquit themselves well whenever they must,
and though no extra players are involved there is an extra dimension
to the final climactic pages. According to the accompanying booklet,
the recording sessions were completed in a single day, so all praise
to the corporate and individual achievements. The final peroration impresses
as the natural resolution of the contrapuntal development which has
preceded it; for any performance of this magnificent symphony must by
definition be a rousing experience, and this one is precisely that.