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Günter Wand: My Life, My Music
Film directed by Robert Reiter
PAL. Interview rec. August, 2001.

CD Audio Disc:
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 4 in B flat, Op. 60 (1806) - Adagio – Allegro vivacea [12'27].
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Serenade No. 9 in D, K320, 'Posthorn' (1779) – Andante sostenutoa [3'59].
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1797)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 (1877) - Andante sostenutob [9'26].
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 9 in C, D944, 'Great' (1828) - Finale (Allegro vivace)c [11'20].
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 5 in B flat (1875-6, original version) – first movementd [21'30]
aNDR Symphony Orchestra, bChicago Symphony Orchestra, cCologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, dBerliner Philharmoniker/Günter Wand.
Audio tracks rec. aMusikhalle Hamburg on April 8th-10th, 2001, bOrchestra Hall, Chicago on January 19th-21st, 1989, cWDR Köln on March 19th, 1977, dPhilharmonie, Berlin on January 12th-14th, 1996.
RCA RED SEAL/BMG LEGENDARY VISIONS 82876 63887 9 [130'00] plus CD [58'40]

 

 

 

What a treat this is! Günter Wand's concerts with the BBCSO at London's RFH were keenly awaited events of my early University life - c.1983 and beyond.

It is a privilege to welcome this in-depth interview (Switzerland, 2001) and accompanying audio CD. The latter, comprising as it does single movements only of some of Wand's most beloved works, is really illustrative of the interview; all the works heard are discussed from various angles therein. Yet such is Wand's compelling music-making that it is addictive listening in its own right.

But first the interview. Wide-ranging hardly captures its essence. It can afford to be, at this length: 130 minutes! Wand appears utterly charming and completely at ease with his achievements and his musical beliefs. There is a humility flecked with undeniable greatness that sums up what he achieved in the concert hall. When one listens to Wand it is almost as if there are no precursors. No previous interpreters – there is just his way. And his way is right – as he puts it, because it is not wrong. Just how it is right is hinted at by allusions to inter-movement tempo relationships; structural hearing - although he does not actually use that term, that's what he is talking about. All this came about because of living with the score and the score alone. He did not have the luxury of the multiplicity of recorded versions we have now of the standard repertoire. Oh, and by the way we should not forget that Wand conducted contemporary works, too – including his own compositions. Now those I would like to hear!

Amazing to think that Wand was born in 1912 - in Wuppertal-Eberfeld. By the age of 33 he was Generalmusikdirektor at Cologne; even more amazing to think - from our perspective - his repertoire included Zimmermann (Symphony in One Movement), Bartók, Stravinsky and Schoenberg. I believe the only Stravinsky I heard him conduct was the Firebird Suite. Indeed, there is black-and-white film of the Zimmermann here ... and of Firebird!

References to records made from December 1950 onwards for a French Record Club in Paris are enough to make one drool. As the film progresses, one pines to hear the full Wand story – and hear musical excerpts all the way. Only the later chapters are fully documented of course: the radio orchestras and the Berliner Philharmoniker. There must surely be BBCSO recordings around that should see the light of day too?

The longest part of the film is the interview, a real marathon; Wolfgang Seifert is the interviewer. We hear of the early career, and of Wand conducting Robert Stolz operetta ('Venus in silk'!) in Eberfeld as his first piece conducted as a professional. More, Wand composed stage music for Faust and William Tell. Probably no chance of ever hearing it, of course. He also refers to a Fidelio he conducted. The mind boggles.

Never a man to rush bringing a piece to the public, Wand was sixty when he conducted Schubert Ninth for the first time in concert. He had, he says, always loathed it: 'completely despicable'! Yet under his baton the work really was to become 'heavenly'. Similarly, he was 62 when he birthed a Bruckner Fifth. Versions of the score bring further scorn – Wand 'hates' the Schalk, calling it an 'aberration'; Abendroth and Knappertsbusch both had ties with this version.

Wand refers to a Prom of Schubert 8 and Bruckner 9. His praise of the Prommers is touching – an audience of 7,000 and yet one could hear a pin drop. He was 'deeply moved it was possible'.

'Vanity is a vice' Wand says. He talks of having a sense of servitude, and it is this that surely comes out most in his music-making. He talks of inter-movement tempo relationships in symphonic thought and of structural integrity. Finally he extols the virtues of live recordings before touching on his Japanese experiences and how willing the players were – and how silent the audiences.

Behind every man there is a greater woman. Step forward Anita Westhoff, a promising singer; Queen of the Night and Zerbinetta were among her roles. She basically sacrificed her career for her man. Later in the interview we see she is there in the room with him. Wand says that 'nothing would work without her' and, in the most beautiful moment of the entire DVD, his eyes light up when, talking of his wife, he says, 'We belong together'. I defy you not to cry.

The second disc is a CD of movements discussed during the course of the interview. Of particular interest is the 'Posthorn' excerpt; of particular power is the Bruckner.

Of the several DVD documentaries of this ilk on RCA, this is by far the finest, the most instructive and the one of most lasting value. Well worth investing.

Colin Clarke

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf



 



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