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CD Feature/ Günter Wand: "Bruckner - Symphony No. 5"

img  Tobias

Bruckner and Günter Wand belong together. Without the help of the only recently deceased conductor, Bruckner could well have ended up as a side note in historical enyclopediae and have been reduced to a radical heir to Beethoven (without reaching his melodic genius) and a mere predecessor of Mahler (without his charisma). That is the first reason making this, the second volume of an ongoing series, especially interesting. The second one consists of the fact that it features the Munich Philharmonics – an important aspect of Wand’s work, which had been condemned to sleeping in the archives for decades.

Contractual reasons and conflicts of interest were the main cause for this malaise, if one can believe the liner notes. For one, Wand was also releasing with other orchestras at the time and record company executives considered it to be damaging for individual sales to extend this schedule any further. And then there were the interests of the Munich conductors in chief, which were probably not exactly keen on finding their position challenged by some of the magnificent performances Wand was drawing from the ensemble. Maybe just noone saw the need or the commercial potential for yet another box set. Of course, Wand was not the first and not the last maestro to make Bruckner a priority. But, contrary to his colleagues, his influence reached beyond a mere restitution. The Austrian composer had long been regarded as a brilliant organ virtuoso with a tendency for overt religious kitch. Wand deconstructed this image by taking away the supposed clerical references and concentrating on the immediate emotional content instead. The seemless seagues were replaced with clearly separated parts of “scenical” character. Rather than taking the shape of a huge and flowing sound carpet, the inner coherency of the symphonies was now directed by the constant reappearance and shuffling of the individual segments – a technique modern instrumental composer such as Mike Oldfield would pick up much later (probably without being directly influenced). To understand, how such an approach could stay clear of sounding fragemented, one need only listen to the first movement of the fifth symphony: A plucked bass motive with warm strings is thwarted by a majestic brass inferno, then opens out into a moment of tender reflection  and a lengthy romantic melody – all of this in the first five minutes only. The thematic material is recycled though, appearing even in later movements, guiding the listener through the maze. Why so many have referred to this work as “difficult” remains a mystery. And the powerful, yet finely nuanced playing of the Munich philharmonics lends the finishing touch.

Merely the proportions remain gigantic, even though someone like Mahler would later exceed this by far: Four parts in an hour and fifteen minutes are still a test for even the most concentrated of listeners. Then again, there is so much to discover in this secluded world that it might take more than the years of its inception to unravel all loose threads. It is Günter Wand’s merit that the outlines of this world have not been lost in a purple haze of presumptions, but been secured in clear shapes and forms. This clarity of his vision is the deciding factor, bringing us back to the beginning: Brucker belongs to him and he belongs to Bruckner.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Naxos (Distribution)
Homepage: Günter Wand

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