Günter Wand's Indian summer is surprisingly well documented
on DVD. This Bruckner 5 from the Proms follows similar video
releases of the 6th, 8th and 9th
Symphonies from the same period with the NDR Sinfonieorchester.
Wand's conducting technique, and the aura that he projects from
the podium, make each of these well worth watching. Even from
audio-only recordings, it is clear that Wand was a living embodiment
of Bruckner's art. That impression is all the stronger for actually
seeing him at work.
When this was filmed, in 1990, Wand was 78 years old, and he
certainly looks his age. His profile at the podium is as distinctive
as any, with his shock of white hair, the pronounced hunch to
his back and his long, old-fashioned tails. His baton technique
is, for the most part, traditional, and from a technical point
of view his conducting is flawless, with every downbeat and
every entry clearly indicated. His left hand is busier than
his right, carefully shaping the dynamics and phrasing in almost
every passage. The emotional complexity and substance of the
work are conveyed through Wand's facial expressions. For all
the discipline and rigour in this reading, it is clear that
he has a deep emotional attachment to every note.
The interpretation is classic Wand, and is as coherent, dramatic
and emotive as any of his recorded Bruckner readings. The BBC
SO are on good form, and their ensemble and intonation are close
to flawless. Their sound quality however leaves something to
be desired. The strings often sound brittle and the brass have
an uncomfortable edge to their tone. This is where the performance
falls short of Wand's more famous audio recordings of the work,
with the Berlin Philharmonic and the WDR, both of which present
very similar interpretations, but with orchestras known for
their superior tonal control.
To be fair, the quality of the recording doesn't help the orchestra,
nor does the catastrophic Albert Hall acoustic. The video was
made by the BBC, presumably for television broadcast, and although
it is 20 years old, it looks and sounds even older. Presumably
the BBC never anticipated that the recording would be issued
in this form, but even so the sound quality could be far better.
The camera-work is a little fussy, with more close-ups of players'
faces and fingers than are strictly necessary. The great frustration
today is that the camera so often moves away from Wand, whose
legendary posthumous status now means that he is the only performer
here that we really want to see. For some reason, the camera
always pulls away about three seconds before the end of each
movement, so we are denied the chance of seeing how Wand effects
his impressively definitive endings.
An interview with Wand is added as a bonus track. The cover
says it was with Michael Berkeley, who doesn't appear, but who
must presumably have been speaking German, as Wand himself does.
It is just three minutes long, but is well worth seeing. Wand
states very succinctly that powerful Bruckner interpretation
is achieved by always thinking about the overall structure and
by doing exactly what it says in the score. Berkeley doesn't
press him on which of his contemporaries he thinks takes liberties.
But Günter Wand was such a gentleman, it is hard to imagine
him naming names.