Edition Günter Wand - Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Track-list at end of review
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Günter Wand
rec. 1988-1995. Germany. DDD
PROFIL EDITION GÜNTER HÄNSSLER PH10046 [8 CDs: 74:12 + 75:27 + 79:59 + 73:37 + 70:31 + 73:57 + 72:25 + 65:35]
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 released.
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.
Wand fans and others will want to snap up this beautifully recorded set.
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 movements)
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 (1840-1893)
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op. 64 (1888) [45:50]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 (1788) [25:42]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY
Symphony No. 6 in B minor Pathétique Op. 74 (1893) [44:47]
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 Haas) [89:21]
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 movement 1).
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 (Mussorgsky)