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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat, Romantic (original 1888/80 version, ed Haas) [68’42].
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Overture, Leonore III, Op. 72a (1805) [15’12].
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Günter Wand.
rec. live, Lübeck Cathedral, 24 June 1990, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.
Director: Hugo Käch.
Producer: Klaus Reinke.

Those of us lucky enough to experience the magic of Günter Wand in the flesh cherish his Bruckner and his Beethoven. This is core Wand territory, on this occasion caught live in Lübeck’s magnificent Cathedral in 1990. Clearly frail as he approaches the podium - he is gently led there - the frailty nevertheless vanishes immediately the music starts.
The Leonore Overture is magnificent. The clarinet solo - in the opera, the theme has the words, ‘In des Lebens Frühlingstagen’ - is meltingly beautiful. More importantly there is a real magic to the whole of the slow introduction. Tutti chords are huge - perhaps honouring the acoustic space of the Cathedral.
Interesting to watch Wand’s tiny beats at the Allegro. The overture unfolds organically - one would expect no less from this source - and the cathedral space is effectively used for the famous trumpet call, yet it is the coda that remains in the memory. Tremendously exciting, it blazes with light yet still remains perfectly balanced texturally. Superb.
A little less superb perhaps is the camera work. Early on one can see another camera when the view falls on Wand – this is distracting. Interesting to be reminded of Wand’s characteristically empty music stand! Still, to compensate there are some quite imaginative decisions: for instance just showing the very top of the bassoon in the flute/bassoon duet.
Wand’s long-range structural hearing is perfect for Bruckner, of course. His players respond with great determination to give their best. The NDR’s principal horn, for example, hits the notes of those terrifying opening calls bang in the middle. Lines throughout are perfectly delineated and it is telling that the tremendous sense of mystery much of the score breathes is just as memorable as the superbly balanced brass fortissimi.
The Andante is remarkably tender. There is a true Andante feel to this, but any Schubertian influences are subverted by the near-skeletal lines. At other points, Wand brings a tremendous warmth to the long-breathed melodies. Pin-point rhythm characterises the Scherzo. The horns are deliberately rustic, for they contrast with the pastoral Trio - one can almost hear the cowbells of Mahler Six!
Finally, a last movement that Wand makes into a huge and remarkably deep journey. There is tremendous gravitas here, in a finale that does not cohere in every conductor’s hands. Wand at this point joins the Bruckner greats. Klemperer’s genius springs to mind in the long-range hearing.
There is a long silence before the applause starts. Understandable, perhaps. Maybe the audience was just stunned?
This is a hugely valuable document as well as a fitting memorial to a truly great conductor. Wand is sorely missed.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Kevin Sutton


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