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Bruckner on DVD: Günter Wand in the Seventh

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A. Bruckner, Symphony No.7, G. Wand
I am an ardent admirer of the artistry of Günter Wand (I don’t think any set of musical ears could not admire his work) – and particularly in Bruckner he is the first conductor to whose interpretations (although part of Wand’s genius is that under his baton music never sounds like an “interpretation”) I turn. Although ‘plain’ music performances on DVD have never really attracted me much (aside, few TVs are attached to a sound system that would do the music justice; decent stereo audio equipment is likely to outperform most ‘theater surround sound systems’, never mind the regular TV speakers), but on occasion I wouldn’t mind seeing a particular conductor I like in works I particularly like: Everything of Claudio Abbado at Lucerne, Leonard Bernstein in Mahler, maybe Karajan in Brahms… Kubelik or Celibidache in just about anything. And, of course Wand – particularly in Bruckner. So far I had to live without Wand’s Bruckner – but with Symphony Seven (with the NDR Symphoieorchester from the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in Lübeck) TDK has now released the complete Bruckner cycle at that Festival that Wand performed in his last years. (The Seventh was performed and recorded on the 28th of August 1999 – just over a year before Wand died.)

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A.Bruckner / L.v.Beethoven, Symphony No.7 / Piano Concerto No.3, C.Abbado / A.Brendel
I am enjoying this performance significantly more than his Brahms or Schubert performances from that Festival (also on TDK). That is no doubt due to my special admiration for the Bruckner/Wand combination but also because this performance of the Seventh is a particularly good one. Adequately light in all its light parts (which sometimes performers forget exist, even in Bruckner!) but with surges of power whenever needed. (No cymbal crash in the Adagio, by the way.) To see Wand move from general fragility and a rather stiff looking and an oddly conventional conducting style (of that kind that if it were done by an actor, we’d harangue him for faking it so blatantly) to a man whose bright eyes and involvement belie his age. He seems to come to life over the course of the first two movements – and at that time in his life he probably never felt younger than after having conducted a Bruckner symphony. In just over one hour, Wand sheds ten years or more off his bent back. That the orchestra (peppered with many very young players) performs extraordinary well under Wand should come to no one’s surprise who knows either their collaborations on CD or of the reverence that Wand was regarded with by any of the (few) German orchestras he collaborated with in his late years. (Apart from the NDR SO there were the Munich Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, and his old orchestra, the WDR SO – formerly Gürzenich Orchestra – from Cologne.)

The production of this DVD – made for TV in Germany (imagine flipping channels in this country and accidentally happening upon a live broadcast of a Bruckner symphony…) – is bare-bones. No specials, no extras, no fancy or multiple angles. The mix of close-ups and wide-angle shots is well done and most of the focus, rightly, is on Günter Wand. A booklet with a short essay on Wand and Bruckner is included. There is not much competition for Bruckner Sevenths on DVD, but Wand should likely deserve the top spot next to the Abbado/Lucerne connection (EuroArts), which also offers Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with Brendel and a generally more festive atmosphere.

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