Towering Bruckner from GŁnter Wand
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 11/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This set of four DVDs is labeled 'Volume One' so we can presume that the rest of Bruckner's symphonies will appear in later volumes, I imagine. The performances all took place at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival between 1996 and 2001 and featured some of the last recorded performances conducted by Günter Wand who died only a few months after the last one. Wand is rightfully considered one of the finest ever Bruckner conductors and he himself says that he considers Bruckner to be the finest symphony composer since Beethoven. Even at the advanced age of 88 in the last performance, he conducts without a score and clearly is in complete control. His conducting style is spare, utilitarian rather than elegant, but it is obvious that he knows precisely what he wants and that the orchestra gives it to him. The subtle shifts in tempi, the slight rubati, the nuanced shaping of phrases and dynamics on his earlier Bruckner CDs are all evident here in his minimal gestures and the orchestra, the fine NDR Symphony, follows him utterly. These are treasurable performances enhanced by fine sound (LPCM Stereo only) and clear photography. The concerts take place in Lübeck, in its Music and Congress Hall, a modern auditorium with clean lines and good acoustics.
The symphonies presented a Bruckner's Nos. 5, 6, 8 and 9, as well as Schubert's No. 8 'Unfinished and Haydn's No. 76 in E Flat, Hob. 1:76. The latter two coupled with Bruckner No. 9 and No. 6 respectively. The total time for these four CDs is nearly six hours. There are no bonus features. Each of the four volumes was directed for television by a different director and one notes slight differences in style. One director, for instance, favors close-ups of the instruments without showing the faces of the musicians. Another, in the repeat of the Schubert first movement exposition, gives us an exact repeat of the visual shots from the first statement of the exposition, which is rather boring. But on the whole the camera work and editing are excellent and not distracting or inappropriate. Clearly it's the music that is important. There are many 'conductor shots' showing Wand head on. He looks aged and frail (and one can see him age noticeably between 1996 and 2001) but his conducting is nonetheless vigorous and alert throughout.
As for the music, there is little to say for anyone who knows Wand's CD versions of these symphonies. His approach is on the leisurely side, features cleanly articulation and impeccable balances, and he shows immense respect for and mastery of Bruckner's massive and complex musical architecture. The Robert Haas editions are used (excepting the Albert Orel edition for No. 9). The NDR Symphony is strong in all departments. The horns (some of whom play Wagner tubas) particularly are glowingly beautiful. I prefer the tone of the principal oboist in the latter two performances, but the earlier principal is fine, too. The strings are rich and suave. Trumpets are excellent, as are the harpists, particularly in No. 8. The principal clarinetist is, in the words of Linda Richman, 'like butter' -- an exceptional artist.
If you know you like Wand's Bruckner -- and I suppose there are a few who don't -- and would like to see him conducting a fine orchestra in some of the music he did best, this DVD box is for you. I gather that each of the DVDs is also being (or has been) released separately (or at least I notice that No. 5 is available separately here at Amazon); for those of you who don't want all four symphonies, that might be the route to take, but there is a price break if you buy all four together.
Everything Here is Crystal Clear
BLee | HK | 10/03/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
While NDR remains one of the topmost orchestras in the world for over a century, Wand is so crystal clear here with everything: Each motif, each theme, each section of the orchestra, and even each note of each and every instrument...
How does he make it happen? You just have to listen with your own ear to believe..."