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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major Romantic [68:44]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Leonora Overture No. 3, Op. 72a [15:12]
NDR Sinfonieorchester/Günter Wand
rec. live, the Dom, Lübeck, 24 June 1990, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.
TDK DVD DVWW-COWAND5 [87:00]


TDK does everyone a favor by releasing their extensive series of filmed performances by the late Günter Wand, one of the last “grand old men” of the podium. Wand remained a modest and somewhat local figure in the music world, preferring to maintain close relationships with only a couple of orchestras and avoiding a larger limelight. Just from watching his podium demeanor, it is obvious that this was a man for whom the music was paramount, and to whom garish displays of egotism were utterly foreign. This calm and gentle man could, through minimal exertion, bring forth glorious results, and the respect in which he was held by his players is palpable.
 
Beethoven’s opera Fidelio was perhaps the composer’s biggest problem child. It took several years, dozens of revisions and no fewer than three overtures before the opera was to be finished, and for it to find a place in the repertoire. Of the four overtures, it is perhaps the Leonora No. 3, performed here, that deserves the highest pride of place. Remarkable both for its solemnity, as best represented by the motif quote from the second act and its breathtaking off-stage trumpet call, and for its triumphant ending, Wand performed this work more often than practically any other piece in his wide repertoire. The performance here is completely under control, finely and carefully paced and played at a tempo that well suits the reverberant space in which it was recorded.
 
The same qualities make the Bruckner, performed here in its original 1878-80 version, a memorable and earnest listening experience. What I found most remarkable in this reading was the care that Wand takes to keep the energy of the music intact without ever allowing it to be overblown. Yes, the brass fanfares are solid and thrilling, but there is ever the hint of restraint and of calm collected good taste. Soft passages are beautifully balanced against the more boisterous ones so that there is a natural ebb and flow of volume. No need to constantly readjust the controls.
 
The Dom is certainly a beautiful and stately building, and its reverberant acoustic is well suited to this lush music. There is some lovely multi-image camera work on display here with scenes that show the conductor and a couple of players all superimposed. I would have liked to have seen the church itself better lighted. A few more shots of the exterior of the building would have added further interest. The audience for this festival concert was rather sedate throughout, a trait which I found frankly refreshing in comparison to the dime-a-dozen standing ovations that prevail in the U.S.
 
This is a disc that merits repeated viewing, and stands as a fine testament to the work of a great master conductor at the height of his powers and in the core of his literature.
 
Kevin Sutton
 

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