Günter Wand Conducts BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 & SCHUBERT: “Unfinished” Symphony (2001)

by | Jun 7, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Günter Wand Conducts BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 & SCHUBERT: “Unfinished” Symphony (2001)

Recorded live at Schleswsig-Holstein Music Festival, Lübeck
NDR Symphony Orchestra
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: *****

TDK’s series of live tapings of the late Wand conducting Bruckner continues with this powerful and moving performance – perfectly captured on highest-quality video and with clean, highly-dynamic PCM stereo audio. In fact the boxed Haitink set of all the Bruckner’s on Philips can’t hold a candle to the TDK Wand series of videos, sounding now strained and rather metallic. Even Wand’s own series on RCA Red Seal, which is in improved sound, is overshadowed by the clarity of the higher-bit-rate PCM audio possible on DVD.  When you take into account the superb video presentation that accompanies the excellent sonics, the growing set of the complete Bruckner symphonies on TDK may be the best deal for Brucknerites!

Wand liked to program these two works together, with the idea that although both lack a final movement and are therefore unfinished, they both sound finished just as they are. (See the hi-res section for an upcoming review of a new version of the Bruckner which includes the fourth movement.) Wand’s interpretation of both works confirms their affinities.  The Schubert takes on a greater seriousness and emotionality than heard in most performances of it.  Some of Schubert’s repetitions seem to stand out in bold relief, showing kinship with Bruckner (although we must wait until Schubert’s Ninth to really hear Brucknerian minimalism on a gigantic scale).

The sound world of the Ninth is more brusque than in the earlier symphonies, but the typical Bruckner rhythmic device of putting even meters against odd is prominent throughout. Wand himself spoke of “the prehistoric stones from which his symphonic cathedrals are built.” And the conductor points out most tellingly that Bruckner’s architectural design in his symphonies stems less from development of thematic material and more from balancing contrasting thematic blocks of sound in time and space.  Some of those giant blocks – engaging the entire brass section across which the camera moves – will be ingrained in one’s mind after seeing this video, accompanied by the dynamic and wide range audio (which did not sound as good when I switched on ProLogic II but which took on considerably more depth and width without compromise when I tried Carver’s Sonic Holography).

I don’t believe any video of a symphony orchestra has gone in quite so close to the players at times as does this one. And there’s no unfortunate shots either – no horn players dumping their condensation on the floor or musicians glancing into the camera. In one shot the bright reflections off the row of horns are thrown back against the faces of the performers with artistic effect that seems to support the music we’re hearing.  After this video you will feel as though you have shared something very intimate and emotional with conductor Wand.  His tender expressions and occasional closed eyes communicate his strong devotion to presenting Bruckner’s symphonies in the best possible manner. What a magnificent tribute to a great conductor!  (And what a contrast to the Karajan videos!)

– John Sunier

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