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Recordings

DVWW-COWAND5
12 Sep 2006

BEETHOVEN: Overtures
BRUCKNER: Symphony no. 4

The later Günter Wand was a remarkable interpreter of Bruckner’s music, as is demonstrated in this live recording from the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture “Leonore III”
Anton Bruckner:Symphony no. 4 “Romantic.”

NDR Sinfonieorchester, Günter Wand, conductor.

TDK COWAND05 [DVD]

 

Filmed on 24 June 1990 at the Dom in Lübeck, this concert is a fine example of Wand’s mastery of nineteenth-century repertoire. As flawless as his recordings sound on CD, the video reveals the fact that he conducted from memory, with the empty podium more a prop for the concert venue than something more utile.

Apparently filmed for television, the video brings the higher-definition images from German broadcasts to the DVD. More than the resolution, the sense of a concert is conveyed with the combination of long pans and, more importantly, and lingering shots. The frenetic quality that some directors bring to the concert videos is absent from this recording, and this helps to give it a sense of place. Not just a performance preserved in digital media, this recording conveys the feel of the performance and its venue.

The concert opens with the familiar “Leonore III” Overture by Beethoven, and as well-known as it is, Wand’s sense of drama makes it worth attention. His cueing is, perhaps, as intriguing as the sound it brings. Likewise, his range of gestures fits the breadth of the music and its implicit drama. Wand shapes the sound in this resonant cathedral, something that is welcome in live performances, like those of Helmut Rilling, and others of his generation. Not just automatons beating time, these musicians truly direct the musicians in their charge and create a dynamism that excites the audience.

As much as the “Leonore III” Overture may be seen as a way to warm up the orchestra, it the program is essentially Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, the one called “Romantic.” Dating from 1874, and revised in 1878 and fitted with a new Finale in 1880, the Fourth is one of Bruckner’s better-known works. While Bruckner further emended the score in 1888, Wand used the Haas edition of 1936, which attempts to provide the Originalfassung of the work. Notwithstanding the complicated history of the Fourth Symphony, it may be regarded as the first of his works to embody the stylistic elements associated with the composer’s symphonic works. No longer relying on quotations as a structural device, as he had done in the Third Symphony, Bruckner’s voice is apparent in the Fourth without the need to rely on ideas from other composers to contribute to its substance.

Familiar to audiences because of its frequent inclusion in concert programs, Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony is accessible because of the concise motives that the composer develops throughout the work. The open intervals with which the work begins help to set the tone for a work that is built on fourths and fifths, with the horn calls stemming from them. As predictable as that may be, Bruckner intensifies the rhythmic interest with triplet figures that push three melodic notes against the underlying duple meter. These stylistic traits are associated with Bruckner and they have their origin in this work, which reflects, perhaps, more concision than the composer used in his previous work. As fine a composition as the Third is, the Fourth seems to be the quintessential Bruckner symphony.

In this recording, too, Wand allows Bruckner’s voice to emerge clearly and without affectation. From the first notes of the opening movement, Wand gives free rein to Bruckner’s music, as the horn call gives way to its response by the woodwinds and eventually the full orchestra. The setting in the Lübeck cathedral is an appropriate venue for the timbre, which reverberates warmly in the surrounding acoustics. The attentiveness of the audience is evidence of Wand’s command of the performance, which seems, at times, more like a studio recording than a live concert. Wand plays the orchestra as though he were Bruckner’s organist, with attention to every detail. From the subtle gestures that create intimate sounds to the majestic ones he used to bring out the structural climaxes in the score, Wand interprets the music as if he had composed it himself. The response of the musicians is evidence of the conductor’s presence, as is the attentiveness of the audience, whose faces blur into those of the orchestra in the various panned shots of the video.

The slow movement is no less powerful, and some of the images of performers framed by Gothic arches help to establish the solemn tone of the music. In this spirit, the Wand himself seems to have resisted the spirited facial gestures that he used in the first movement, averting his eyes, as it were, so as to avoid engaging the performers too vociferously. Such is not the case in the Scherzo that follows, which Wand opens with a precise and measured beat that keeps the lively spirit of the piece.

With the Finale, Wand allows the subtle orchestration to emerge clearly, and the unirhythmic passages come through with rare precisions. The control that is apparent in Wand’s conducting by no means restrains the expressiveness of the performance. Without hurrying along the players, Wand maintains a persuasive tempo that reinforces the sonata form of the Finale. Wand’s interpretation of the Finale matches his concept of the opening movement; the work revolves around the outer movements, with the inner ones supporting the overall structure.

This is a fine video that captures a late performance by one of the finest conductors of the twentieth century in exemplary form. While some of the shots from one side of the cathedral might catch sight of film crew on another part, the overall quality is impressive. Moreover, the sound is quite fine, as should be the case with DVDs of concerts like this. This video has much to recommend, as it preserves an outstanding Bruckner performance for future generations to enjoy.

James L. Zychowicz

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