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Edition Günter Wand
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, 'Romantic' (original version 1878/80) [69:41]
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (original version 1875/78) [73:41]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 (1876) [45:43]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 (1877) [39:48]
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 (1883) [37:34]
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 (1885) [41:47]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) orch. Maurice Ravel [32:40]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 (1875, rev. 1879, 1888) [36:15]
Jorge Bolet (piano)
NDR Sinfonieorchester/Günter Wand
rec. Hamburg Musikhalle, Germany: 11-13 October 1996 (Bruckner 4); 8-10 October 1995 (Bruckner 5); 20 September 1982 (Mussorgsky); 19-20 September 1982 (Mussorgsky); 29-30 November, 1 December 1992 (Brahms 2); 13-14 November 1985 (Tchaikovsky); 17 December 1990 (Brahms 4). Cologne Philharmonie, Germany: 14 February 1990 (Brahms 1, 3)
PROFIL EDITION GÜNTER HÄNSSLER PH12043 [5 CDs: 69:41 + 73:41 + 78:32 + 79:21 + 79:25]

The year 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of German conductor Günter Wand (1912-2002). Probably the last of the great interpreters of the ninetieth-century symphonic tradition it is wonderful to see that in recent years Wand has finally been given his due. This five disc anniversary box comprises eight live NDR recordings made in Hamburg between the years 1982-96.
 
Wand with NDR Sinfonieorchester recorded the complete symphonies of Beethoven (1986/88) and Brahms (1982/83) for RCA Red Seal. This Profil set omits the Beethoven symphonies. However we do get all four of the Brahms but not those recordings mentioned above. These are live performances recorded in 1990-92. We also hear some Bruckner, Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky.
 
Günter Wand was born in 1912 at Elberfeld, Germany. It was not until he passed seventy that his talents became recognised internationally as one of the finest conductors of his generation. Listening to these live recordings it comes as no surprise that Wand insisted on receiving ample rehearsal time. Wand’s relatively few commercial recordings involved considerable duplication of his much loved Bruckner, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert. Actually Wand’s concert repertoire was considerably wider than those four giants of the Austro-German symphonic tradition. Early in his career Wand championed the cause of a number of then 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 the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne he recorded complete cycles of Schubert and Bruckner. With the NDRSO Hamburg where he served as principal conductor he also recorded Beethoven and Brahms cycles. In addition he successfully collaborated with the Munich Philharmonic and the two main Berlin orchestras. Wand’s live performances with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker are amongst his most successful recordings. Wand’s live recordings of Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 with the Berliner Philharmoniker made in 1996/2001 at the Berlin Philharmonie for RCA Red Seal are stunning and have been captured in spectacular sound. There are no finer accounts of these Bruckner symphonies on record. I have already reviewed Wand’s splendid eight disc box set of recordings with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra on Profil Hänssler PH06013.
 
In addition I have reviewed the even more impressive eight disc set with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin on Profil Hänssler PH10046.
 
There is also a single disc of Wand conducting the NDRSO also contained in this Wand set: the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Jorge Bolet (piano) and Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition on Profil Hänssler PH09029.
 
Wand had an excellent relationship with the NDRSO serving as its principal conductor in the years 1982/91 being appointed as its honorary conductor in 1987. This Hamburg orchestra was established after the war in 1945 and named the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Hamburg. Berlin-born Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt was the founding conductor and their concerts were based at the Hamburg Musikhalle (now the Laeiszhalle). The orchestra’s present name the NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg (North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hamburg) was chosen in 1956 following the split of the Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (Northwest German Broadcasting) into two regions: the NDR and WDR. The orchestra’s principal conductors have included Klaus Tennstedt, Herbert Blomstedt, Christoph Eschenbach, John Eliot Gardiner and Christoph von Dohnányi. The current principal is Thomas Hengelbrock who conducted a marvellous concert that I attended of the Schumann Symphony No. 3 Rhenish and Brahms Symphony No. 1 last May 2011 at the Semper Opera House as part of the Dresden Musikfest 2012.
 
Volume 1 of Wand’s NDR Sinfonieorchester performances contains the popular Bruckner Symphony No.4. It’sin the original version of 1878/80 that Wand favours. The recording was made at live concerts in 1996 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bruckner’s death. Bruckner composed his Fourth in 1874. Not entirely satisfied with the score he made various revisions in 1878 and subsequently rewrote the last two movements in 1880. The première given by Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic in 1881 at Vienna was his first real success as a composer. It seems it was Bruckner himself who dubbed the Fourth Symphony the ‘Romantic’. This live account from Wand is both visionary and magnetic in its effect. All the components are handled with the utmost care and control based on decades of experience. Especially convincing is the intense forward momentum and sweep of the playing. There is an invigorating freshness and a radiant quality revealing a slight undercurrent of mystery. Notoriously difficult to get right, Wand’s tempi are wisely chosen. 
Volume two contains Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 - a score he began composing in 1875 with his first draft completed in 1876. He wasn’t satisfied until he had completed revisions in 1878. The première of the Fifth was given by Frank Schalk in Graz in 1894; Bruckner was not able to attend owing to illness. Here Wand conducts the original 1875/78 version recorded live in October 1995 at concerts given to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the NDRSO. He is a magnificent Brucknerian and delivers a compelling reading abundant in splendour. The dynamic contrasts are perfectly together and coupled with well judged pacing. One distinctly feels that Wand has the full measure of the score. The orchestra responds with gripping playing that combines energy and passion. 

The third volume is from concerts at Hamburg in February 1990. We are treated to Brahms 1 and Mussorgsky’s Pictures - the latter recorded at Cologne concerts in September 1982. Brahms was aware that by writing symphonies he was invading the territory ruled by Beethoven. He always said that he could feel the presence of Beethoven marching behind him. It was Hans von Bülow who referred to the First Symphony as “Beethoven’s tenth”. Brahms was 43 and at the height of his maturity when his Symphonywas produced. Although its gestation had been protracted with sketches for the score dating from over twenty years earlier. The première was given in 1876 at the great hall of the Karlsruhe Museum under Otto Dessoff. With this the first of Wand’s live set of the four Brahms recordings he confirms his mastery of another of the great Austro-German Romantics. There are more hard-hitting and emotionally charged recordings but none is played with such impeccable style and mature expression.
 
Mussorgsky in 1874 wrote his piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition. This was inspired by a posthumous exhibition in St. Petersburg of paintings and drawings by his friend Victor Hartmann. After Mussorgsky’s death the piano suite proved exceptionally popular especially in the orchestral transcription that Maurice Ravel had prepared in 1922. This dazzling and richly-scored kaleidoscope of orchestral writing makes a splendid showpiece. Wand clearly thrives amid Ravel’s wonderful orchestration and moulds the myriad moods, diverse tempi and broad dynamics with brilliant musical percipience.
 
Both works on volume 4 were recorded at Hamburg concerts: Brahms No. 2 in 1992 and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto in 1985. Brahms completed his Symphony No. 2 in 1877. It was quickly written mainly during a summer holiday in Pörtschach am Wörthersee in Austria. Premièred in 1877 in Vienna with Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic the score has occasionally been described as Brahms’ Pastoral. This recording was made at concerts from the Musikhalle, Hamburg in November/December 1992. It’s an impressively coherent account from Wand who clearly lavishes considerable care and attention. The results are fresh and invigorating being strongly evocative of rustic Alpine scenes. The uplifting and delightful playing has a heartfelt glow. I was struck by the broad range of appealing orchestral colours that Wand fashions so expertly.
 
One of the most famous if not the most famous of all piano concertos is Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 - a much adored staple of the repertory. It is hard to believe today that pianist Nikolai Rubinstein when he first played through the score was vehemently critical of the writing and suggested various amendments. The well received première was given by soloist Hans von Bülow at the Music Hall, Boston during a tour of the USA in 1875. In 1879 the score was revised to incorporate some of Rubinstein’s ideas. In this live recording a firm connection is asserted between Jorge Bolet the legendary Cuban/American pianist and Wand his close contemporary. Everything is impressively secure in Bolet’s hands with Wand’s NDRSO on top form throughout making this one of the most satisfying accounts I have ever heard of this much heard score. The iconic introduction is as searingly dramatic as one could imagine. The pianism is of such emotional intensity that it sends shivers down the spine. Crisply articulated and beautifully paced Bolet never needs to resort to histrionics. There is a hushed poetic quality to the slow movement with the keys lightly stroked with palpable tenderness. Bolet conjures a near-hypnotic spell. 
 
Volume 5 offers us two works and opens with Brahms’s Third. Six years elapsed between the Second and the start of its successor - a score that he composed largely in the summer of 1883 at the German spa of Wiesbaden. In December that year the première was given at a Vienna Philharmonic concert under Hans Richter who described the score as “Brahms’ Eroica”. Wand is heard at a Cologne Philharmonie concert in February 1990. His deep understanding of the music is evident from the first note to the last. I was immediately struck by the finely judged balance that Wand achieves with his Hamburg players and the intelligent shifts of mood and tempi demonstrate the maestro at his best. The second work on volume 5 is the Symphony No. 4 that Brahms worked on in 1884/85 at the Austrian resort of Mürzzuschlag. This was a success at its 1885 première with Brahms himself conducting the orchestra of the Meiningen Court Theatre in Thuringia. Sometimes described as the Elegiac Symphony its regard has endured and many judges consider it to be Brahms’s finest symphony.Wand recorded the Fourth at a concert at the Musikhalle Hamburg in December 1990. Immediately one senses how much the Hamburg players respond to Wand’s sensitive direction. Wand brings out much orchestral detail and colouration. With an unerring sense of nobility and a real depth of feeling this is a gripping performance. 

This set offers music of a rare expressive quality. The German radio sound engineers certainly knew what they were doing because having undergone re-mastering the recordings are crystal clear and splendidly balanced. The full bodied-impact of the climaxes is stunningly conveyed. As these are all live recordings some minor audience noise is detectable. The applause has been left in at the end of the performances of four of the eight works. Where there is applause it is included in the timings set out in the heading.
 
This set of live recordings is a valuable document of Günter Wand’s very special talent. No Wand supporter should hesitate with this set nor for that matter should any lover of Romantic music.
 
Michael Cookson 

Masterwork Index
Bruckner 4 Bruckner 5 Tchaikovsky concerto 1 Pictures at an exhibition
Brahms 1 Brahms 2 Brahms 3 Brahms 4

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