BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (2000)

by | May 1, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (2000)

Günter Wand conducts the NDR Symphony Orchestra
at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival 2000
Video: Enhanced for 16:9, color
Audio: PCM stereo
No region code
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: ****

Günter Wand was one of the great Brucknerians of the past century.  His recordings of all the Bruckner symphonies for RCA and other labels are among the best interpretations available.  Wand had been principal conductor of the NDR Symphony for five years when at age 75 he was named conductor emeritus for life.  This music festival found the conductor at age 88 and his long life and career were to end in 2002.

Wand was totally committed to Bruckner as “the most significant symphonist after Beethoven,” and shared the composer’s belief in an omnipotent God.  His research into presenting the music as it was originally meant to be heard clears away some of the pseudo-Catholic “interpretative incense” around Bruckner’s music. Wand stressed that he wanted to make it clear Bruckner was not just a composer of the sacred and solemn, but also a great symphonist by any measure. Tempi were vitally important to Wand, who said that with Bruckner “the architecture becomes ‘visible,’ – you can recognize it when listening to the music thanks to the clear alignment not only of the blocks of sound but also of the tempi and rhythms…”

Although others feel the added “bridging material” to be unacceptable, Wand felt that the 1939 Robert Haas revision of the symphony was the only one to use, making the music a convincing organic whole. The typical Brucknerian stretching of the symphonic fabric as far as it could go is illustrated by the third and fourth movements of the Eighth each being nearly a half-hour length. The Adagio uses a theme from the first movement and the composer described its climax as a “flight to heaven.”  The massive Finale opens with great pomp and circumstance and sums up the symphony’s main themes in a masterpiece of counterpoint – ending in C Major.

The camera work is excellent thruout, with a just-right balance of closeups and longer shots which never leave the viewer with the feeling you get from so many televised symphony concerts – that the music is really happening elsewhere than what you are seeing on the screen. Wand is usually seen from the front or at a frontal angle – not from the rear.  And the PCM stereo is beautifully mixed and rich and detailed.  It is considerably better fidelity than the well-known Haitink performances of all the Bruckner symphonies on Philips, and when ProLogic II is dialed up on the stereo feed, the resulting surround impression is not that inferior to the new LSO SACD of the Eighth conducted also by Haitink. The Wand series of Bruckner on RCA is much richer and more rounded in sonics than the Haitink Philips series, but still is overshadowed by the transparent and immediate sound of the live TDK video.

In fact it is in the realm of classical and jazz videos that I feel DVDs often have the edge over even the SACD version, and certainly the standard CD version of the same music.  One of my colleagues recently ran an editorial on how movie DVDs offer a much better cost-per-minute than any music CDs. Of course with all the extras on many DVDs you have a terrific cost-per-minute. Then there are comparisons to the $30 xrcds or 200-gram vinyl which would step up the cost-per-minute difference even further. My thinking would give more credence to the sonics you get, plus the opportunity of seeing the performers in action on the widescreen.  If the production is top flight visually – such as shot in HD to begin with – and the sound format is DTS I say there’s no contest – the DVD is the better deal. First-rate PCM stereo such as the present DVD would be next best, and of course primary choice for the two-channel diehards.

– John Sunier

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