Günter Wand has, over the course of many years - and numerous re-recordings, some, like this one, made in concert - grown into a Bruckner interpreter of insight and understanding. His cohesive, gripping renditions of this symphony’s outer movements represent a considerable achievement. The first movement is one of Bruckner's more elusive creations - it's difficult to sustain a through-line across such diverse, seemingly unrelated episodes. Here the conductor displays a thorough command of issues of structure and balance. The opening ostinato - alternating dotted figures and triplets, replacing the customary "Bruckner tremolo" - is crisp and properly pianissimo
. The dotted rhythms maintain their rhythmic buoyancy even among the heavy brass in tutti
. Conductors usually mark off the problematic second subject as a separate "paragraph". Wand makes a smooth, easy-sounding transition into it, slowing the tempo just slightly, and the three-against-four rhythm, basses against violins, immediately falls into place with assurance. Throughout the movement Wand takes care over details of balance - bringing out whooping horns within tutti
s, for example, and drawing melodic motifs in sharp relief - and even fine rhythmic points, such as the difference in stress between two triplets and one sextuplet in the passage at 7:00 (before rehearsal L, if you're following with a score).
Wand maintains a similar sense of inevitable purpose in the Adagio
, at least initially. His direct, flowing manner in the opening string phrases still allows the notes enough space to impart the appropriate gravity. But at 8:27, the start of the slow build-up, Wand takes the editorial Tempo I
indication literally, and the tempo seems disconcertingly fast. More distressingly, the technical control the conductor brought to the first movement - even more important in the Bruckner slow movements - isn't as sure here, and the playing misses the first movement's visionary glow. The resonant basses which earlier provided a foundation for the string sonority repeatedly dominate it, and blunted attacks leave things sounding vaguely fuzzy: the arrival at 12:53 is unfocused, insufficiently affirmative. The coda does convey the right sort of repose.
The latter two movements recover somewhat. The lively Scherzo
, another uncharacteristically quirky conception, could use a bit more weight and grounding, but the sense of air between the pizzicato
s in the Trio
is effective. The airborne tempo at the Finale
's start conjures real mystery from the sparse textures, and Wand fairly hurtles through the tutti
s. The strings weave the counterpoint of the second subject with an almost dancing "lift," and the exposition's close, with trim basses articulating the dotted rhythms, effectively builds anticipation. But fatigue, and nervousness, eventually set in: the tutti
at 9:16, sounds tubby, with not enough violin and too much everything else; Wand marks off too many short phrases in the recap with ritards the composer didn't ask for, with a stop-and-go effect; and the final coda falls short of the expected resplendent exuberance.
Aside from previously expressed reservations, I liked the firm, compact ensemble sound of the Munich Philharmonic, its impact enhanced by "deep" reproduction of the big brass chords. The horns are full-throated, yet clean; woodwinds are graceful and sensitive. The violins sound scratchy where pressed, and exposed, in the Scherzo
, but make lovely sounds in the broad melodies.
There's enough alternative documentation of Wand in this symphony - at least two previous recordings - that the Hänssler issue isn't strictly necessary. Still, conductors and students should find it instructive, particularly in the first movement. Meanwhile, general listeners ought to seek out, Karajan (DG); Klemperer (EMI/Angel Studio); Solti (Decca - I'm not a fan of Solti's cycle, but the conductor's strengths seem to suit this score); or Barenboim, whose Chicago version on DG sounds more specific, and more weighty, than his capable Berlin remake for Teldec.
Stephen Francis Vasta