Notes and Editorial Reviews
Valuable documents of Wand’s special talent.
The year 2012 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of German conductor Günter Wand (1912-2002). This volume 20 is the final release in the first Günter Wand edition. It comprises two live recordings with the NDR Sinfonieorchester (North German Radio Symphony Orchestra) of Hamburg from Wand’s tenure as their principal conductor. It was with the NDR that Wand recorded the complete symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms and to considerable acclaim. The Tchaikovsky here
was recorded in 1982, the year that Wand took over as principal conductor and the Mussorgsky/Ravel three years later.
Wand was over seventy before his talents
became recognised internationally. His relatively few commercial recordings involved considerable duplication of his much loved Bruckner, Beethoven and Schubert. Wand’s repertoire was actually considerably wider than those three giants of the Austro-German symphonic tradition. Many of Wand’s numerous early broadcast tapes were lost when they were wiped and the reels re-used. It was only in the 1950s and early 1960s when the practice of wiping tapes ceased and broadcast recordings began being archived. This CD uses previously unreleased radio tapes.
One of the most famous of all piano concertos is Tchaikovsky’s
Piano Concerto No. 1. It is hard to believe today that pianist Nikolai Rubinstein when he first played through the score was sharply critical of Tchaikovsky’s writing and suggested various amendments. Undeterred, although upset, Tchaikovsky dedicated the score to Hans von Bülow and published it as it stood. The première was given by soloist Hans von Bülow at the Music Hall at Boston during a tour of the USA in 1875 and was given a warm reception. Despite his initial reservations Nikolai Rubinstein went on to play the concerto many times. In this live performance the soloist is Jorge Bolet, the legendary Cuban/American pianist who was a close contemporary of Wand. Bolet was one of a select group of the so-called ‘great Romantic tradition of pianism’ that included Vladimir Horowitz, Shura Cherkassky, Arthur Rubinstein and Earl Wild. Bolet’s recorded legacy will be best remembered mainly for his famous Liszt recordings for Decca. Good as they are this is probably unfair as his repertoire was far broader than Liszt. The iconic introduction to the
B-flat minor concerto is as searingly romantic as one could imagine. Bolet’s playing is of such emotional intensity that it sent a shiver down the spine. Crisply articulated and beautifully paced, Bolet never needs to resort to histrionics. Here it is easy to image him sitting poised and confident at a concert grand, possibly his favoured Baldwin or a Bechstein. Aided by the warm recording the strings of the NDR sound simply stunning. There is a hushed quality of poetry to the slow movement with Bolet lightly stroking the keys with palpable tenderness, almost creating a hypnotic spell. For some reason the music evoked for me Warwick Goble’s illustrations from Charles Kingsley’s children’s book
The Water Babies. In the
Allegro con fuoco,
finale Bolet’s ingredients of energy, precision and expression are a potent blend. Everything feels impressive and secure in Bolet’s hands with Wand’s NDR Symphony Orchestra on top form throughout. This is one of the most satisfying accounts I have heard.
Mussorgsky in 1874 wrote his piano suite
Pictures at an Exhibition inspired by a posthumous exhibition in St. Petersburg of paintings and drawings by his friend Victor Hartmann who had died suddenly the previous year. After Mussorgsky’s death the piano suite proved exceptionally popular in the orchestral transcription that Maurice Ravel prepared in 1922. This piece of dazzling and richly-scored orchestral writing, a kaleidoscope of colour, makes a splendid showpiece for the NDR. In Ravel’s wonderful orchestration an assured Wand displays his skill in moulding the score’s myriad moods, diverse tempos, broad dynamics with brilliant musical colouring. From the first
Promenade an immediate impression is made by the striking brass and the golden-sounding strings of the Hamburg orchestra. Dark and eerie, Wand’s depiction of
Gnome features colourful percussion and in
The Old Castle I loved the troubadour’s mournful lament delightfully played with exotic saxophone textures and colourful woodwind. In the
Tuileries tableau depicting the famous visitor gardens in Paris I appreciated the light and playful woodwind figures and the swooning strings. My all time favourite tableau is the writing of the
Bydlo (ox-cart) a magnificent portrayal of a peasant wagon drawn by oxen. I adore the effect of the
Bydlo ever so gradually coming into view and slowly passing by before disappearing into the distance. Wand’s interpretation feels sturdy and dark conveying a sense of dire fatigue and world-weariness. This music is so glorious there must have been someone significant, maybe a famous fugitive hiding under the wagon’s covers.
In the memorable tableau the
Ballet of Chicks in their Shells the convincing woodwind interplay is justly light, lively and playful. The tableau of
Samuel Goldberg and Schmuyle is a portrayal of two Polish Jews. Prosperous and pompous Goldenberg is represented by dark and serious low strings whilst
Schmuyle is characterised by a striking trumpet solo that depicts the bleating of the cowering vagabond. Featuring marvellous brass playing the tableau
Sepulcrum romanum) a disturbing depiction of the Parisian Catacombs. Its low, dark and terrifying sounds represent a chilling exploration by lantern that illuminates a cage of ancient skulls that begin to glow.
I have written this before about Wand’s interpretation of
The Great Gate of Kiev which is a spectacular statement and a magnificent and vivid depiction of the imposing edifice. Here the majestic effect of the great tolling bell is somewhat overshadowed by the heavy percussion and brass.
Wand continues to delight and enthral his audiences with a programme of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky that has been wonderfully recorded by the radio engineers. Like many others I never saw Wand conduct live in concert so these Profil releases of his live performances serve as valuable documents of Wand’s special talent.
-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
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