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.
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.
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!
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!
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?
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
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.
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'.
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
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.
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.
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.
by Jonathan Woolf