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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat 'Romantic' (1876)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Günter Wand
Rec 10 December 1976, Grösser Sendsaal, Cologne
RCA VICTOR 09026 63934 2 [64.21]


Symphony No. 4 in E flat 'Romantic' (1876)

Franz SCHUBERT (1796-1828)

Symphony No. 5 in B flat
Günter Wand interviewed by Wolfgang Seifert
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Günter Wand
Rec 28-30 October 2001, Hamburg, Musikhalle
RCA VICTOR 7432193041 2 [2CDs: 73.02+64.47]


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Günter Wand is one of the great Bruckner interpreters, whose death earlier this year marked the end of an era. This reissue of his 1976 recording of the Fourth Symphony with his Cologne orchestra is most welcome, so too the new recording with the North German orchestra, which turned out to be his last.

The latter performance comes as part of an advantageously priced 2 CD set, coupled with the Fifth Symphony of Schubert and an extended interview with the German musicologist Wolfgang Seifert. This is well documented in the excellent accompanying booklet, which includes a full transcript and translation, so that the non-German speaking listener is not entirely at a disadvantage.

The RCA catalogue now boasts no fewer than three Bruckner Fourths conducted by Günter Wand: the two present examples from 1976 and 2001, and another recorded in the Philharmonie with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1998 (09026 68839 2). It is no criticism, but rather a confirmation of Wand's Brucknerian credentials, that the three performances are more notable for their similarities than their differences. It is interesting to note a gradual broadening of tempi, making the performances extend from 64 minutes (1976) to 68 (1998) and then 73 (2001). These are small differences from one to the next but they are not insignificant.

The fact remains that when one listens to any of these performances, the music moves inexorably on its symphonic path, and sounds as though it could not possibly be otherwise. Yet the statistics prove otherwise, that as he grew older Wand loved the music more and more, that he wanted to expose more detail with greater breadth of tempi and phrasing. It's not as simple as that, of course, but it remains an indication.

Take the famous scherzo, for example. The most exciting rendition of this rhythmic tour-de-force is probably the earliest version, with tight ensemble and a slightly more rapid tempo accentuating the stresses. Added to which the tendency of the remastered recording to a certain dryness, which makes the tuttis sound crisper, emphasises the trend.

But what is a positive in the quickest music is less so generally, when the pulse is slower. For in this competitive company the 1976 sound is less pleasing than the later versions, even if taken on its own merits the performance is perfectly good. But there is more bloom to the string sound in Hamburg in 2001, or come to that, in Berlin in 1998. And these things matter in Bruckner, for here the composer creates some of his most resonant and sonorous textures. In the slow movement the fluent lines and subtleties of phrasing are treated with consummate understanding by Wand, in whichever version. In fact no one better articulates the ebb and flow of a Bruckner symphonic movement. And the great sonorous climax near the close unfolds with certainty and grandeur in each performance.

Wand always preferred the Haas edition of this symphony, eschewing the original scherzo and slow movement, and it is somewhat misleading of the two recordings listed above to simply call this 'original version 1874-80'. It is decidedly not that, otherwise we would have a completely different scherzo, for example, and not the celebrated one with all the hunting horn effects.

Whatever the merits of the inner movements of this marvellous symphony, it is in the first movement and the finale that any interpretation will stand or fall. Wand is second to no-one in understanding the way that the line must be maintained, while at the same time the music must breathe and build naturally to its powerfully climactic statements, the greatest of them the last, when the first movement theme is recalled (in typical fashion) to set the seal upon the whole. While the differences between these versions are not enormous, the better recorded sound makes the final version (Wand's last ever recording) the one to recommend.

There is also a second disc, including a delightfully fluid performance of Schubert's Fifth Symphony, as well as the extended interview with the conductor. If the two CD format does not appeal, the single disc with the Berlin Philharmonic finds Günter Wand on top form, and directing an orchestra of the highest calibre. For the Bruckner collector this is a surfeit of riches indeed.

Terry Barfoot

 


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