Magazine article Gramophone

The Art of Preparation: RCA Red Seal Has Boxed-Up the German Conductor's Live Recordings: Peter Quantrill Recalls the Refinement of a Master Conductor, That Great Brucknerian, Gunter Wand

Magazine article Gramophone

The Art of Preparation: RCA Red Seal Has Boxed-Up the German Conductor's Live Recordings: Peter Quantrill Recalls the Refinement of a Master Conductor, That Great Brucknerian, Gunter Wand

Article excerpt

According to Gunter Wand, 'The older you get, the clearer your vision of perfection'. We might then hope to find some ideal representations of the music closest to the conductor in this box of live recordings made during the last 20 years of his life. For the last half of his career, Wand was a 'one-label' conductor, faithful to RCA, who hung the microphones in the Musikhalle in Hamburg, and then the Philharmonie in Berlin, at ever-decreasing intervals, keen to pass on some further refinement of those visions to his eager public in Germany, the UK and (especially) Japan.

The wallets being unnumbered, and the discs inside them arranged in no obvious order, the box lacks the kind of guiding structural hand which would have borne the imprint of its subject. In one sense it begins with an outlier, the Chicago SO Brahms First from January 1989. The performance is commonly known as his US debut, yet I can trace no record of any subsequent American engagements. 'Firmly in the mainstream of interpretation,' remarked Will Crutchfield in his New York Times concert review, 'neither novel nor particularly old-fashioned, nor even especially assertive, except in its assertion that playing the symphony very well could be a fruitful and joyous enterprise.' Just so, though I also hear recovered a Furtwanglerian model for the symphony, especially in the memorial-style Andante turned Adagio, and the dizzying poles of the finale's alternating tempi, when all Brahms has marked is piu animato. By comparison with Andris Nelsons, 30 years on and 1000 miles away in Boston (and reviewed last month), Wand gets more. More strings, more force, more brass, more Brahms.

In 1996, back in Hamburg, Wand remade all four Brahms symphonies. Every bar of the later First lives in the moment--and, lest it be forgotten, with the same NDR Symphony Orchestra that Furtwangler conducted in a one-off performance of the symphony in October 1951. Memories of that occasion seem to stir in the orchestra's collective unconscious, in the piercing wind-band and full-tilt brass and timpani. There is no turning aside to smell the flowers in the third movement--even Thielemann (DG, 11/14) is more graceful here--and you may find other expected moments of relaxation hard to come by. So, it would appear, did Wand, unless with cigar or high-end claret in hand. Dolce and grazioso were not natural adornments to Wand's expressive vocabulary. The contrasts lie between degrees of tension.

The set makes no pretence at comprehensiveness. How could it, when Profil has documented Wand's latterday work with other ensembles in Berlin, Munich and elsewhere? Nonetheless, several omissions and missed opportunities draw attention to themselves. The late symphonies of Mozart and Tchaikovsky, in live RCA recordings from the 1990s, would have put flesh on the bones of this portrait of Wand. So would the film documentary released by RCA in 2004--'My Life, My Music'--which contains a full account of the last interview he gave (to the ever-faithful Wolfgang Seifert), originally excerpted in the booklet of the final Schubert Fifth/Bruckner Fourth set. Anyone expecting a booklet in the present box will be disappointed. The discs are enclosed within original-sleeve artwork, unnumbered, and not all bearing technical data such as producer, venue or even date.

Wand made famously exigent demands for rehearsal time. No matter how familiar the orchestra was with him, or with his repertoire's ever-decreasing circle of late-Classical and Romantic symphonies, at least 15 hours was a contractual minimum. His use of that time focused on minutiae of attack, timing and articulation. Whatever the chosen tempo, there isn't a sluggish or routinely played bar of music in this box. Interviewed for the documentary, NDR members recalled how Wand always came to the first rehearsal with a finished concept of the work in his head. The details would be discussed with the front-desk players while the players at the back (in their words) had a tea party. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.