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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 4 in B flat Op. 60 (1806)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67 (1807)
NDR-Sinfonieorchester/Günter Wand
Recorded 1987 (No 5) and 1988 (No 4)
RCA RED SEAL 09026 64000 2 [67.03]


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Remastering in 24 bit/96 kHz Sound Dimension – RCA’s much vaunted technology – lets us hear even more of Wand’s intensely convincing exposition of orchestral detail in these thoroughly recommendable performances recorded in 1987 and 1988. His control of individual movements - and the overarching span of the symphonies - is exemplary and even where one finds oneself ambivalent about the results (the scherzo in the Fifth for example) one still remains impressed by the conviction with which he maintains pulse and direction. If I concentrate rather more on the B flat Symphony it’s not because I found the Fifth less than naturally sprung but rather more because the earlier work reveals if anything even more of Wand’s great gifts as a Beethovenian.

The Fourth does indeed receive a marvelously and comprehensively sensitive reading. The first movement’s adagio opening is properly grave but its subsequent relaxation into the Allegro vivace is activated with the most acute organisation of internal rhythm. There’s a cogent rightness to Wand’s tempo, a reluctance to indulge deep black bass lines, and most perceptively a constantly inviting attentiveness to the frequently humour-laden wind choirs. The bassoon takes a prominent share and is laudably equipped to do so. Otherwise the verdancy of the winds reminds one that this is a much undervalued and occasionally orchestrally prescient Symphony. The consonance and seriousness of the Adagio possesses an elevating seriousness made even more so by the violin entries, which are etched with exceptional tenderness but quite without sentimentality. Wand certainly doesn’t press ahead too swiftly in the scherzo; the orchestral sound here is blended splendidly, the recording really first class, orchestral discipline maintained. He observes the ma non troppo indication of the finale; plenty of clarity here as well as bite and once more really razor sharp string entry points and renewed admiration for the NDR wind principals who contribute so much to the success of this performance, one which sits in broadly speaking the Schmidt-Isserstedt tradition (one of the most undervalued cycles around).

The Fifth opens in imposing but neither relentless nor grandiloquently supine mood. Wand maintains direction and resilience in matters of tempo and internal balance here and in the slow movement he sets a reasonable tempo and generates incipient tension within it. I did find the Scherzo rather heavy and emphatic (it was equally so in his 1992 traversal) but as I said Wand’s genuine seriousness of intent is also noteworthy. He gives full rein to potential for colour in the finale with some chirping woodwind to the fore.

These are strongly imaginative and honest performances. Splendidly played and recorded they embody central virtues of Beethoven performance with undeviating naturalness.

Jonathan Woolf

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