RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Günter Wand - The Munich Recordings
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.4 in E flat major, Romantic (original version 1878/80) [72:47]
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (original version 1875/78) [75:41]
Symphony No. 6 in A major (original version, 1879/81) [57:37]
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (original version, 1884/90 ed. Robert Haas) [89:41]
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (original version, 1887/94) [64:11]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 Unfinished (1822) [26:51]
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 Great (1828) [54:10]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 (1876) [46:01]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 (1799-1800) [25:30]
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Günter Wand
rec. live, Philharmonie, Gasteig, Munich, Germany, 13-16 September 2000 (Bruckner 8, Schubert 8); 29 November, 1 December 1995 (Schubert 9); 28 May 1993 (Bruckner 5); 13-15 September 2001 (Bruckner 4); 19, 21, 23 February 1997 (Brahms); 4 February 1994 (Beethoven); 24th June 1999 (Bruckner 6); 21st April 1998 (Bruckner 9)
PROFIL EDITION GÜNTER HÄNSSLER PH06013 [8 CDs: 61:54 + 54:40 + 75:41 + 54:10 + 72:47 + 71:43 + 57:37 + 64:11]
These days renowned German conductor Günter Wand (1912-2002) is finally getting the recognition that he richly deserves. Profil Hänssler has released an 8 disc set of broadcast relay tapes of Wand’s Munich concerts with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The recordings were made at the large concert hall of Munich’s Gasteig cultural centre known as the Philharmonie. Released back in 2007 I came across this set only recently but feel that it is so important that I needed to document it in a MusicWeb International review. Also well worth looking out for is a recent 2012 release of another magnificently performed and recorded eight disc set of previously unreleased broadcasts of radio recordings. These Wand made with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and can be heard on Profil Edition Günter Hänssler PH10046.
Hänssler’s eight disc box set Günter Wand - The Munich Recordings is divided into seven volumes. It comprises Bruckner's Symphonies. 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 together with Schubert's Symphonies 8 and 9. Also included are the first symphonies of Brahms and Beethoven. Of special importance is volume 6 as it documents the final occasion on which Wand conducted Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 which was in 1999. It’s a work that he only rarely performed. At the time of recording the Bruckner 6 another recording with the Berlin Philharmonic was in the planning stage for the following year but it never came to fruition. There is however a recording of that work that Wand made with the NDR Symphony Orchestra in 1988 at Hamburg.
Born in 1912 at Elberfeld, Germany it was not until Günter Wand was over seventy that his talents became recognised internationally as one of the finest conductors of his generation. Wand’s relatively few commercial recordings involved considerable duplication of his much loved Bruckner, Beethoven and Schubert. Actually Wand’s concert repertoire was considerably wider than those three giants of the Austro-German symphonic tradition. Early in his career Wand championed the cause of a number of contemporary composers such as Edgard Varèse, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Frank Martin, Olivier Messiaen and György Ligeti.
Wand did valuable work in the post-second world war development of German radio orchestras. Notably with WDR Cologne he recorded complete cycles of Schubert and Bruckner and with the NDR Hamburg, where he served as principal conductor, there were complete Beethoven and Brahms cycles. In addition Wand successfully collaborated with Berlin orchestras. His live performances with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the especially with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra are numbered amongst his most successful recordings. Wand’s live Bruckner recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic of 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 - made between 1996/2001 from the Berlin Philharmonie on RCA Red Seal - in my view rank amongst the finest Bruckner symphony performances ever recorded.
In Munich Wand did some conducting with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra but it is his work with the Munich Philharmonic that is especially notable. It was in 1957 when Wand, then a relative unknown, first conducted the Munich Philharmonic. He went on to conduct the orchestra over four and half decades until giving his final concert with them in 2001, aged 89. In the years leading up to his death the only other orchestra that Wand regularly conducted without a contract was the Berlin Philharmonic. Though Wand only ever conducted the Munich Philharmonic as a guest conductor his reputation in Munich became so high that all his concerts at the Gasteig Philharmonie were sell-outs and were often repeated. It seems that from 1990 the Munich Philharmonic had been recording their own concerts at the Munich Philharmonie using their own staff with their own digital equipment. None of Wand’s recordings with the Munich Philharmonic were released during his lifetime. They were made solely as documentation and never released commercially to ensure that Wand was not competing with his other recordings made with the NDR, WDR and Berlin Philharmonic.
The present Bruckner recordings offer characteristically spacious readings with tempi that underline the epic grandeur and sweep of Bruckner’s awe inspiring visions. These are perceptive and ineffably compelling interpretations touching on deep emotions.
For the epic Symphony No. 8 in C minor performed in September 2000 the 89 year old Wand uses the original 1884/90 version edited by Robert Haas. Wand’s performance flows marvellously with a great feeling for the architecture and space of the score. I loved the beauty of the sound the Munich orchestra produces: from the most delicate pianissimo to full bodied fortissimo in the climaxes. Played with sure concentration the sense of mystery in the massive Adagio is impressive. Here Wand conveys a real emotional impact with a strong sense of spiritual depth that few other interpreters have achieved. Compelling and frequently serene the Finale is splendidly shaped with a thrilling conclusion especially the tremendous weight of the climax at the end of the score.
Sometimes called his ‘Faith’ Symphony Bruckner referred to the Symphony No. 5 in B flat major as his “contrapuntal masterpiece”. Composer and musicologist Robert Simpson observed that “the tonal conflicts in the Fifth Symphony suggest a great classical fresco”. Wand’s approach to conducting Bruckner was a gradual process. He was aged 62 when he first conducted the Fifth. I was immediately struck by how the intensity of Wand’s live 1995 performance (in which he uses the original 1875/78 version) adds to the impact of the writing. Wand’s passion for the music is conveyed with sheer beauty of sound and penetrating bite without ever losing its sense of integrity. The severity and astringency of Bruckner’s writing is compellingly caught by the German maestro skilfully maintaining a palpable sense of tension throughout the stop-start nature of the score. Radiating warmth, the Adagio has a deeply reverential feel especially the section for strings at 2:07-2:48 which radiates a sense of heavenly veneration. I loved the regularity of the pulse that Wand controls throughout the movement. The forward momentum is never allowed music to flag. I felt the climax in the chorale at the conclusion of the Finale quite awe-inspiring. Throughout, the rich string sound was glorious and the tuttis on the brass were exciting and incisive.
For this 2001 reading of the Bruckner Symphony No.4 'Romantic' Wand uses the original 1878/80 version described by Robert Simpson as “clean and lean”. Premièred by Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic in 1881 this is the most accessible of Bruckner symphonies. Then aged 89 Wand’s performance has purpose and assurance. The pacing of each movement is judicious. Wand navigates the broad sweep of the writing with all the confidence afforded by his extensive experience. I especially enjoyed the playing of the spacious Andante that felt like an unhurried amble through the Tyrolean countryside; only the occasional dark cloud threatens a storm. Following on, the taut and energetic Scherzo with its brass fanfares and hunting calls felt fresh, glowing with remarkable energy. The sonorous playing of the Munich brass is remarkable displaying a striking burnished timbre. This recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 was recorded at a series of three concerts in September 2001 programmed with the Schubert Symphony No. 5 were to be Wand’s final concerts in Munich.
The least performed of Bruckner’s later symphonies Robert Simpson referred to the Symphony No. 6 as the “ugly duckling” of Bruckner’s body of orchestral works. Recorded in 1999, Bruckner’s A major score is performed using the original 1879/81 version. Wand shapes his orchestral terrain with impressive clarity and a sense of spontaneity. The Finale the emotional heart of the entire score with its unusual tonal conflicts is powerfully played. I found the conclusion stunning, particularly the heroic proclamation by the rank of blazing trombones.
It is somewhat disappointing that Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major is not part of this collection. Justly the most popular of Bruckner’s symphonies it brought the composer the greatest success he had known.
The final work here is the Symphony No. Bruckner was working on at the time of his death. The first three movements were completed with only sketches left for a fourth. Bruckner said, “I have served my purpose of earth; I have done what I could, and there is only one thing I would still like to be granted: the strength to finish my Ninth Symphony.” At Bruckner’s own recommendation the unfinished symphony was sometimes performed with the Te deum serving as the final movement. Here Wand’s 1998 account uses the original 1887/94 version and is one of my favourite Bruckner recordings. Demonstrating an assured understanding of the score’s sudden changes in speed and direction this reading evinces a splendid clarity. There is a sure sense of authority in the often tormented opening movement and the near brutal Scherzo has remarkable conviction too. I greatly admire how Wand communicates moments of rare spirituality in this often dark score, especially in the magnificently played anguished-laden second movement Adagio, the last movement that Bruckner completed.
Few conductors can have lavished as much care on a composer as Wand clearly does with Schubert. The two symphonies that he recorded with the Munich Philharmonic on this release are Schubert’s two most famous. Wand’s association with the Unfinished was a long one first conducting the two movement score at Detmold in the 1938/9 season. In this September 2000 performance the 88 year old maestro with unforced concentration brings out glorious playing that is subtle, refined and revealing of plenty of detail. The inspired Wand creates real atmosphere with impressive dynamic contrasts.
Compared to the Unfinished Wand came to the Great C major relatively late - first conducting it in 1972 when he was aged 60. The great success of Wand’s 1977 recording with the WDR Symphony Orchestra led to a commission to make a series of Schubert orchestral recordings. This he completed in 1981 to considerable acclaim. The present 1993 recording feels profoundly personal. Phrasing and commitment are impressive together with a palpable sense of grandeur in the outer movements. I especially enjoyed the martial stains of the Andante that combine splendidly with a bucolic glow. This is a compelling and unforced performance with a natural flow that will live long in the memory.
Wand made this recording of the Brahms Symphony No. 1 in 1997. I was struck by the opening bars with those pummelling kettledrums at 0:00-0:30 taken far quicker than I expected. Wand soon slows down the proceedings taking great joy in the lofty melodic content and the varied and dramatic development. Generating significant tenderness and expression in the Andante the high strings sound glorious together with notable woodwind contributions especially from the oboe and clarinet. One can almost smell the fresh verdant Alpine countryside amid the ländler rhythms. The Finale is full of wonderfully lyrical and varied ideas and Wand elicits exemplary playing that is both powerful and dramatic.
Recorded in 1994 Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 is a fine example of how Wand consistently delivers fresh and spontaneous sounding performances. I loved the controlled grandeur and sense of expectancy in the opening movement. The prominent woodwind parts are played superbly. There’s gleaming character and polished playing in the dry-humoured and graceful Andante. Dubbed by the composer as a Menuetto the third movement contains dynamic contrasts and a coursing vigour that feel really volatile. Highly controlled and developing an increasing power in the Finale one senses that Wand is unleashing a potent energy. It is like slowly increasing the throttle of a powerful prestige car.
These live radio recordings from Munich have been digitally re-mastered to produce gratifyingly clear sound. Please note that where there is applause it is included in the timings. These are indispensable gems in performances that lovers of Austro-German Romantic repertoire will certainly relish.
It should be noted that this set from 2007 is not a new issue. The review has been written so that Musicweb International has a commentary on Wand’s legendary recordings with the Munich Philharmonic.
Indispensable gems in performances that lovers of Austro-German Romantic repertoire will certainly relish.
Masterwork Index: Bruckner symphonies