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This Man Should Have Known Suffering?

available at Amazon
Schubert / Bruckner, Sys 5 / 4
+ Interview,
G.Wand / NDRSO

This is a short reflection on Franz Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, as recorded on Bruckner, Symphony No. 4 and Schubert, Symphony No. 5, with Günter Wand and the NDR Symphony Orchestra, a two-CD set from RCA, with a half-hour interview with Maestro Wand.

"My God, what delightful music!" So much will immediately cross your mind upon hearing the first 30 seconds of Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major. Joyously Mozartian one may say; a youthful drive that dances along sun-flooded streets of a town in gay summertime; or, if one should chose a slightly more drab set of ears, the perversely beautiful day of a warm fall around harvest time. It makes the birds seem to sing along, whether they want to or not, and if you are not outside already you could be forced to open the windows for a fresh and sun-warmed breeze yourself.

Your entering wife's or mother's steps must seem more graceful to the Allegro; and, granted the volume is adequately set, you may even be able to interpret her mouthed words as sweetest prose, when in fact she admonishes you to turn down the volume. The house pets—you would not be surprised at all if they did—may dance in line, one after the other, through the living room, in Zauberflötian fashion as if mobilized by Papageno's Glockenspiel. Clearly exhausted from such internal dancing and frolicking, you will certainly appreciate the calming contentness of the Andante's rest, provided in the warm air of the late afternoon well spent on a bench, undoubtedly underneath a well-aged chestnut tree. Your heart still pounding with ecstasy, you recollect and gather yourself: exhale.

But just enough to lift up, heavily still, for the Menuetto. At first as though you had preferred to stay put, you soon are too enchanted to resist. You walk with an increasing spring in your step to the location at which you think a dear girl should be waiting for a dance. Presuming the dance not to have been without merit, I shall leave it up to your kind imagination how the Finale: Allegro vivace is to be envisioned: suffice it to say that it is most pleasant and climaxes with delight. All of this is brought to you courtesy of Günter Wand and the NDR Symphony Orchestra in his last recording.

Back to the second movement for a bit. The Andante con moto is a wonderful example of the emotional richness that music can bring to us. It is, rather than determinedly playing to a certain mood or suggesting a particular feeling, an amplification of whichever mood you find yourself in. It can be anything from resting, calm, and elated happiness—smiling as the day passes—to a harrowingly sad and overwhelmingly sorrowful movement. Until you listen to it, you may well not even be aware of the mood that is consequently unearthed by this music. LSD is said to function on the user in ways that may seem comparable, though I imagine it expedient to stick with the former over the latter.

You might be tempted to eschew such music during times in which heartbreak (or sorrow) slumbers, but at your own peril! Living, after all, is not about happiness: it is about the whole range of emotions. If heartbreak drags you down, at least let it be to such wonderful music. And equally important, in the third movement Schubert rescues you. The Menuetto and Trio (Allegro Molto) carry the listener off to happier (if need be) times or interrupt the happy complacency. There is, after all, a lively Finale (Molto vivace) to be headed for. And this finale allows neither heavy tears nor idle rest.

Here as elsewhere, music can take even the most mildly perceptive listener on a journey through all of his very own emotions. A thrill not unique to classical music, but likely to be more prevalent in it than many other forms of art. "Why do you listen to classical music?" is a question to which I heard a wonderful, if slightly quipped answer: "For the cheap emotional thrills!" A Schubert symphony, well played and conducted as in this impeccably delightful recording with the masterful late Günter Wand in one of his last concerts, is such a little journey to behold. It is neither as long nor as intimidatingly tense as a symphony by Gustav Mahler. (The latter was famous for stating to his colleague Jean Sibelius that "the symphony must contain the world.") Schubert's 5th contains the village, perhaps.

The recording shines in comparison to others through its unpretentious manner, for which Wand was famous. He does not impose ideology on the music, he lets it be. When listening to his Mozart or Schubert or Brahms, there is a feeling that the music is "just right." Mannerisms and interpretive questions suddenly cease to exist. If the Pope had as much to say about Schubert as he allegedly did not say about The Passion (see Ionarts post on December 26), it might be, "The music is as it was!" This recording in particular is the very last Günter Wand made. The Schubert, which fills half a disc, is coupled with an interview, with a literal translation provided in the booklet. That it accompanies one of the best recordings of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 can't be a deterrent. The Bruckner—Wand's true specialty—has none of the ease that marks the Schubert, but it is a sublime and profound statement in symphonic terms that more than warrants its own little review. Or perhaps it will just reveal itself. Spiritual enough to do so it certainly is!

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