The year 2012 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the birth
of conductor Günter Wand (1912-2002) in the German town of Elberfeld.
To coincide with this significant date Hänssler has released
this Wand set to complement and build on the label’s Deutsches
Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (DSO) series.
Originally formed in 1946 by the American radio station in a
divided Berlin as the ‘Radio in the American Sector’ (RIAS)
the orchestra became known as the Radio Symphonie-Orchester,
Berlin. Owing to another radio orchestra in Berlin with a similar
name the orchestra changed its name in 1993 to the Deutsches
Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (DSO).
It was not until he was over seventy that Günter Wand’s talents
became recognised internationally as a conductor of significant
stature. His relatively few commercial recordings involved duplication
of his much loved Bruckner, Beethoven and Schubert. His repertoire
was actually considerably wider than those three giants of the
Austro-German symphonic tradition. Many of his numerous early
broadcast tapes were lost when they were wiped and the reels
re-used. It was only in the 1950s and early 1960s when the practice
of wiping tapes ceased and broadcast recordings began being
archived. This set uses tapes from the archives of the radio
broadcasters Deutschlandradio and RBB. Until now these have
“been under lock and key” and have not previously been
Wand conducted his first DSO concert in 1983 then aged 71. He
became their honorary conductor in 1996 before leaving to concentrate
on his concerts with the neighbouring Berlin Philharmonic. It
was with that renowned orchestra that Wand made his finest Bruckner
recordings. He would conduct the DSO at the Schauspielhaus (which
was renamed the Konzerthaus in 1994) in the Berlin Gendarmenmarkt
or at the Philharmonie. The Berlin regional radio station Sender
Freies Berlin (SFB) recorded the majority of these concerts
including all the performances featured here.
This eight disc box has been divided into five volumes using
performance dates to group the various scores. On Volume 1 we
have Beethoven recordings with the DSO of the Symphony No. 6
in F major Pastoral, Op. 68 on CD 1 and the Symphony
No. 5 in C minor, Op. 57 on CD 2 made in 1992 at the Schauspielhaus,
Berlin. What is provided on CD 1 are rehearsals of the first
movement of the Symphony No. 6 Pastoral followed by
the run-through and on CD 2 rehearsals of movements one, two
and four of Symphony No. 5 followed by the run-through. On CD
3 the actual live concert performances of the two symphonies
from sell-out Schauspielhaus concerts in 1994 are also included.
One of Beethoven’s few explicitly programmatic scores the Symphony
No. 6 known as the Pastoral is given a buoyant and
cheerful interpretation by Wand. In the opening movement ‘Awakening
of cheerful feelings of life upon arrival in the countryside’
it feels as if Wand is opening the door to a bucolic Tyrolean
vista. The ‘Scene by the Brook’ flows genially with
especially impressive individual and collective woodwind contributions.
In the Finale, ‘Pastoral Song – Cheerful feelings
and gratitude after the Storm’ Wand underlines the glorious
themes with heart-warming control and refinement.
A core work in the symphonic repertoire Beethoven’s Symphony
No. 5 is justly world famous. Under Wand the interpretation
has a tautness together with a compelling excitement from start
to finish. In the rapt beauty of the Andante con moto
Wand conveys a disconcerting undercurrent of sorrow. Like an
awakening spirit the nobility of the Scherzo is thrilling.
In the transition from the Scherzo to the Finale
there is an ethereal splendour that explodes magnificently.
Solid and incise Wand ensures that the Finale has a
dramatic vitality whilst maintaining firm control.
Volume 2 on the single CD 4 comprises two symphonies that Wand
recorded with the DSO in 1987 at the Berlin Philharmonie. The
first score is Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Wand has
elected to play the composer’s 1945 suite that retains more
of the original ballet music. Also on the disc is Tchaikovsky’s
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64 (1888). Based on Russian folk
tales The Firebird marked a new dawn in the evolution
of symphonic ballet. Now a repertoire staple The Firebird
is extremely successful. The alive and urgent interpretation
ensures that Stravinsky’s long flowing melodies brim with vivid
bright colours and excitement. Wand is not afraid to force the
dynamics and up the volume. I was struck by the gorgeous playing
in the famous Round Dance with its marvellously memorable
song-like melody. Here the DSO woodwind especially the oboe
in the Princesses' Khorovod theme are given
ample opportunity to shine. Thrilling and strident the Infernal
dance of King Kashchei is briskly played with significant
forward momentum. The percussion at the beginning and the end
has the sheer force of hammer-blows. The appealing music of
the Berceuse (Lullaby) is delightfully played
with Wand fashioning a sultry and exotic atmosphere. Heralded
by the horn the Finale is superbly done with an imposing
orchestral climax to the conclusion that is as thrilling as
I have ever heard.
Tchaikovsky was suffering from a deep depression when he commenced
his Fifth Symphony so it is no surprise that the score opens
in a grave mood with the sensitive Wand conveying a compelling
emotional response with the ‘fate’ motif. Anxiety verging on
despair is adeptly maintained with really thrilling orchestral
climaxes. In the second movement Wand blends sadness and stark
beauty to great effect. I was impressed by the broad dynamics
that range from the hushed to the menacingly thunderous. Any
temptation to overdo the sentimentality is resisted. The poignant
horn solo is expertly done and the brass roars out to rousing
effect. Instead of the usual Scherzo Tchaikovsky’s
highly appealing waltz produces vibrant and spirited playing.
Maintaining resolute control Wand builds full-blooded climaxes
and the exalted nature of the final bars.
Volume 3 is also a single disc (CD 5) recorded in 1988 at the
Berlin Philharmonie. Mozart Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550
(1788) is the opening score followed by Tchaikovsky’s Symphony
No.6 in B minor Pathétique, Op. 74 (1893).
Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 known as the Great
G minor, composed in Vienna in 1789 is a highly emotional
work of sombre and dramatic power. In the first movement, without
pushing the limits, Wand explores a broad range of feelings
and emotions. Nicely controlled and making a wonderful sound
everything feels just perfect. Wand’s interpretation of the
Andante touches on melancholy with hints of foreboding.
The increase in orchestral weight was nicely controlled. Lively
and buoyant are the watchwords in the Menuetto which
is robust with a slight yet distinct military feel. I was impressed
with Wand’s nicely judged rhythms in the Finale and
he withstands any temptation to hurry. Wand’s robust interpretation
displays considerable resolve.
Universally known as the Pathétique Tchaikovsky’s Symphony
No. 6 is deeply moving and profound. This enduring masterwork
is widely considered to be his greatest composition. Tchaikovsky
died just over a week after its première in 1893 in St. Petersburg.
Wand’s opening with that famous heart-rending first theme is
impressive. The first movement is beautifully played and admirably
controlled but without the highest levels of emotional tension
that are sometimes heard. However, Wand does unearth a rather
shadowy undercurrent. He ensures that the memorable waltz movement
is light on its feet and the vibrantly scored march is urgent
and stirring that reveals a seam of melancholy. Wand unleashes
a furious and threatening brass-fuelled climax. In the heart-breaking
Finale marked Adagio lamentoso there’s a searing
emotional intensity before the mood fades into a shattering
and edgy sense of exhaustion.
Volume 4 is all-Bruckner on the two discs CD 6 and CD 7 recorded
at DSO concerts in 1994 at the Berlin Philharmonie. CD 6 offers
the original 1879/81 version of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in
A major. The last track on CD 6 and the whole of CD 7 is Bruckner’s
Symphony No. 8 in C minor in the original 1884/90 version edited
by Robert Haas and published in 1939.
Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony was composed between 1879 and 1881
a critical time in his career that saw his reputation shift
from being considered an eccentric to becoming a valued musical
visionary. In the Sixth Symphony I was immediately struck by
the rapt beauty of the playing and the high quality of the recording.
Built out of his years of experience Wand navigates the shifting
emotions and delivers a coherent view of the whole structure
of the symphony. In the opening movement - notorious for its
difficulty – the tempi and rhythmic control feels perfect. There
is a strong sense of reverence in the Adagio which
is marked by heartfelt playing underlined by the stunning timbre
of the dark, low strings. The tempi in the Scherzo
are judiciously chosen. Bruckner’s expression is more obscure
than usual and the music is played with character and understanding.
I love the way the DSO brass can blaze out with fervour without
playing too loud and becoming distorted. In the emotional core
of the work Wand’s conducting of the Finale is a deeply
moving experience. Wand builds and maintains the emotional tension
to deliver a triumphant climax.
Bruckner was over sixty when he completed the revisions to his
gargantuan Eighth Symphony in 1890. He considered it his finest
work and dedicated it to the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I.
Musicologist Hans Redlich described the symphony as “Promethean
in its aim, Faustian in spirit”. There’s a mysteriously
dark opening to the first movement from which Wand creates a
glorious soundscape. The music feels spectacular like a blue
sky appearing and disappearing through thick white clouds.
In the Scherzo Wand is in full accord with Bruckner’s
mature orchestration and dynamics. Thrilling playing creates
a powerful tension. The performance of the Adagio is
really special and lasts nearly half an hour. It is arguably
Bruckner’s finest. Here Wand manages to sustain most attractive
playing achieving near celestial heights. In the huge Finale
Wand demonstrates a heightened concentration throughout. He
delivers driving forward momentum with razor-sharp execution
producing thrilling climaxes.
The final volume 5 contains three works on CD 8. The eighty-three
year old Wand and the DSO made the recordings at a series of
live concerts in 1995 at the Berlin Philharmonie. First comes
Haydn’s Symphony No. 76 in E flat major, Hob. I:76 (1782). The
second is Mozart’s Serenata notturna, K 239 (1776)
and the third is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition
(1874) in Ravel’s popular orchestration.
A score rather neglected today Haydn’s Symphony No. 76 in E
flat major was composed in 1782 in the isolation of the Hungarian
Court at Esterházy the estate where he served as Kapellmeister.
Wand is buoyant and cheerful in the opening Allegro
but doesn’t allow the Adagio to linger though still
creating a rather ruminative mood. Durable and rhythmic in the
Menuetto, Wand provides impressive shifts of tempi
and dynamic. The upbeat Finale is taken briskly with
considerable spirit and character.
Mozart was clearly fond of Cassations, Divertimenti
and Serenades, writing a large number of these light
and convivial forms designed for entertainment. In 1776 when
aged only twenty Mozart wrote his Serenata notturna,
K. 239 with the title appended to the score by his father Leopold
Mozart. For this performance Wand conducts a version suitable
for the concert hall with his concertino consisting
of two violins, a single viola and double bass together with
an expanded group of strings and kettle-drums. The attractive
Maestoso march feels fresh, buoyant and polished with
the central Menuetto splendidly played yet a touch
serious in mood. A strikingly cheerful Finale, Rondeau
is highly engaging and strong on personality with especially
glorious playing by the leader. Throughout I was struck by the
impressive unity and instrumental tone.
Mussorgsky in 1874 wrote his piano suite Pictures at an
Exhibition inspired by a posthumous exhibition in St. Petersburg
of paintings and drawings by his friend Victor Hartmann who
had died suddenly the previous year. After Mussorgsky’s death
the suite proved exceptionally popular in orchestral transcriptions
of which Maurice Ravel’s is the best known. This dazzling and
richly scored orchestral showpiece proved an excellent vehicle
the Berlin orchestra to display their talents. A poised Wand
shows his expertise in moulding the score’s myriad moods, varied
tempos and wide dynamics with exquisite musical colouring. The
troubadour’s mournful lament in The Old Castle is delightfully
played with exotic saxophone textures and colourful woodwind.
To prevent too much seriousness additional buoyancy and playfulness
were needed in the Tuileries tableau depicting the
famous visitor garden in Paris. My favourite Bydlo
(ox-cart) portraying a peasant wagon drawn by oxen passing by
into the distance is given a sturdy dark and almost sinister
interpretation conveying a sense of fatigue and world-weariness.
The memorable Ballet of chicks in their shells is justly
light, lively and playful, so convincing with extremely impressive
woodwind playing. The Great Gate of Kiev is a spectacular
statement and a magnificent and vivid depiction of the imposing
edifice. I loved the majestic effect of the great tolling bell.
The German radio sound engineers really knew what they were
doing with these live recordings. Having undergone a re-mastering
process the recordings are consistently clear, immediate and
well balanced. As these are live some minor audience noise is
detectable and enthusiastic applause can be heard at the end
of some of the works; not all. Where there is applause it is
included in the timings. Fans of Günter Wand will want to snap
up this beautifully recorded eight disc set from Profil Hänssler.
Others new to Wand will certainly not be disappointed such is
the consistent quality of the late, great maestro’s conducting.
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6, Pastoral Op. 68 (1808) [74:12]
(Run-through including rehearsal of first movement)
Symphony No. 5, Op. 57 (1804-08) [75:27]
(Run-through including rehearsal of first, second and fourth
Symphony No. 6, Pastoral Op. 68 (1808) [45:14]
Symphony No. 5, Op. 57 (1804-08) [34:43]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Firebird (1909/10, suite 1945 version) [27:45]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op. 64 (1888) [45:50]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 (1788) [25:42]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY
Symphony No. 6 in B minor Pathétique Op. 74 (1893)
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 6 in A major (original version, 1879/81) [56:59]
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (original version, 1884/90 ed. Robert
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 76 in E flat major, Hob.I:76 (1782) [19:30]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Serenata notturna, K. 239 (1776) [12:46]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [33:17]
26 September 1992 Schauspielhaus (renamed Konzerthaus) Berlin
Vol. 1, CD 1 (Beethoven Symphony No. 6 including rehearsal of
2 November 1992 Schauspielhaus (renamed Konzerthaus) Berlin
Vol. 1, CD 2 (Beethoven Symphony No. 5 including rehearsal of
movements 1, 2 and 4).
2 November 1992 Schauspielhaus (renamed Konzerthaus) Berlin
Vol. 1, CD 3 (Beethoven Symphony No. 6).
1-2 November 1994 Schauspielhaus (renamed Konzerthaus) Berlin
Vol. 1, CD 3 (Beethoven Symphony No. 6 and Symphony No. 5).
5-6 April 1987 Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany Vol. 2, CD 4 (Stravinsky
Firebird, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5).
18 September 1988 Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany Vol. 3, CD 5
(Mozart Symphony No. 40, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6).
30 April, 1st May 1994 Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany Vol. 4,
CD 6 (Bruckner Symphony No. 6).
14-16 May 1994 Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany Vol. 4, CD 6, 7
(Bruckner Symphony No. 8).
30 April, 1 May 1995 Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany Vol. 5, CD
8 (Haydn Symphony No. 76, Mozart Serenata notturna).
19 February 1995 Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany Vol. 5, CD 8