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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 6 in A (1881) [56:58]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No 76 in E flat (1782) [21:18]
NDR Sinfonieorchester/Günter Wand
rec. Musik-und Kongreßhalle, Lübeck, 7 July 1996
DVD Video, LCPM Stereo, PAL, Region code 0
TDK DV-COWAND2 [79:54]

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Is there, I wonder, any other profession in which an individual can be at their peak at the age of 84? So it seems for conductor Günter Wand, here recorded live at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in 1996. In his later years (he died in 2002), Wand made quite a few live recordings, notably of several Bruckner symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. However, they were often patched together from multiple concerts; this is a real “one-off”. And here he is conducting an orchestra with which he had a much closer association and with whom he had earlier recorded all the Bruckner symphonies.

Falling between the Sturm and Drang period and the highs of the Paris symphonies it is not surprising that Haydn’s 76th symphony is relatively unknown. Wand certainly looks younger than his years as he sets the orchestra off in a work which apparently he performed quite often. The playing is beautifully crisp in the opening Allegro and Wand finds considerable depths in the contrasted sections of the ensuing Adagio. If the Minuet and Trio of this work are unremarkable, the finale makes up for it – Haydn’s sense of fun is given full rein here. Wand was in total control and brought the work to its charming end before the audience had realised it – with a complete absence of showmanship.

Whilst the Haydn is delightful, the prospect of Wand’s reading of Bruckner’s Sixth is surely the potential reason to invest in this DVD. As far as I am aware, he only made one studio recording of the work, way back in 1976. When it was reissued a few years ago my colleague John Quinn was not too impressed (see review), particularly in relation to the fast tempo adopted in the opening movement. Marked Maestoso, tempo is critical here and, this time, Wand’s is virtually identical to that of Klemperer whose 1964 reading is generally accepted as the gold-standard. After a precise opening, there are a couple of dodgy moments early on: the first horn fluffs an entry at letter B and somebody is playing too loudly soon afterwards. In both cases the camera is on Wand and his disappointment is visible. But from there on the performance goes from strength to strength. By the end of the first movement all is forgiven in a blaze of glory. In general, the playing of the brass and horns is very impressive although the sound is balanced a little too much in their favour, relative to the strings.

The adagio is the highlight of this performance. Here Wand’s experience in Bruckner is evident in every bar as he draws playing of great conviction from the strings in particular. The tempo is kept rock steady and Wand refuses to impose himself in any way, just letting a stream of powerful music speak for itself. This is probably the finest performance of the slow movement I have yet heard.

The scherzo and finale are almost as impressive as Wand continues to find the right tempi and demonstrate his complete mastery of the architecture of this symphony. At the end the audience does not immediately applaud and Wand’s priorities are to first to wipe his brow and then acknowledge his players - it seems an age before he turns to the audience.

As indicated above, the balance between orchestral sections is imperfectly captured but I have no other complaints about the sound quality. The camerawork is generally good although the importance of the cellos in this work is not reflected by the number of times they are seen in action. The documentation is reasonable on the works, a little light on Wand and tells us about neither the orchestra, the occasion nor the Schleswig-Holstein festival. The year 1996 was the centenary of Bruckner’s death.

Two fine performances captured on the wing from a conductor who was still flying very high in his mid-eighties. Admirers of Günter Wand will need to have this one.

Patrick C Waller





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