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Article

Günter Wand

Günter Wand

The Last Great Brucknerian

An overview of his life and recording career

Günter Wand was never a man to seek the limelight, yet his energy for conducting and recording was quite simply inexhaustible. He was a conductor of the old school, steeped in the great Austro-German class such as Fritz Stiedry, Hans Knappertsbuch, Franz Schalk, Hermann Abendroth and Otto Klemperer. Noted for his work with the great orchestras in Hamburg and Bremen he had recently enjoyed a glorious Indian summer of recordings for the RCA label which began in the mid 80's and continued right up to his death with projected plans for a number of recordings still left unfinished on the shelf.

Wand was born in Eberfeld, Germany and immediately set out on a musical career. He began conducting in the local opera house as a repetiteur, working his way up until he left for Bremen in 1938. During the war, he eked out a living conducting orchestras across war torn Germany until he garnered a position with the Hamburg Philharmonic in 1947. He was also appointed musical director of the Cologne Radio Orchestra in 1946, a position, which he held till 1974 when he moved to Switzerland. Incidentally, although he was well known for his strengths in the German symphonic tradition he made very few recordings up till the late 70's when a contract signed with RCA began bearing fruit.

RCA 68839
[ Symphony #4 in E Flat "Romantic" - Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - RCA 68839
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Bruckner was one of his greatest loves. In an uncanny way, he could manage to portray the deeply spiritual side of the symphonist with the craggy, almost brusque facet of the countryman. His first complete cycle of the symphonies was made for EMI Electrola in 1979 to 1982 and here there are readings of unique, poetic wisdom. The sound of the North West German Radio Orchestra is superbly captured by the engineers, and we have memorable readings of the early symphonies especially the uncut version of #2. However, Wand really comes into his own in the magnificent Seventh, which resembles Karajan's lofty 1971 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra relay and the Eighth, which was a Wand specialty. This is a pretty useful cycle for those wishing to start a Bruckner collection but the Wand riches were inevitably to come later in his career.

He was also an excellent interpreter of Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert. Complete cycles of all these symphonies were recorded with the NDR Orchestra in the early digital days and are still available in bargain box sets, all highly recommended for their virile, forthright direction and common sense. The Beethoven 5th and 7th symphonies are particularly beautiful, for their unique fidelity to the score and their intrinsic poetic intensity, just sample the first movement of the A minor. His Brahms could also be forthright and direct, especially in the wonderful Fourth or the more mercurial and mellow Second. Schubert's joyful playfulness could also be captured and his complete set (now deleted) was a wonderful alternative to the more traditionalist viewpoints of Karajan, Bohm or the more recent Abbado. He re-recorded the Brahms and Beethoven cycles recently, also for RCA and brought a new dimension of wisdom and clarity to his interpretations, especially in the latter Beethoven. The Brahms was uneconomically packaged as it is spread out on four CDs with no fillers, but such musical weight surely does not demand stinginess!

[ Symphony #9 in D minor "Unfinished" - Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - RCA 63244
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RCA 63244

The conductor's passion for live recording also yielded considerable treasures in the form of a wonderful Schumann Fourth and the Mozart symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, both discs of considerable stature. However his recent series of live Bruckner recordings are surely his greatest testament for posterity. Early experiments in 1989 with two recordings of the Eighth and Ninth were occasionally criticized for their foggy acoustics, due to the hallowed and reverberant sound prevalent in Cologne cathedral, yet the interpretations were succinctly brilliant and beautifully paced. The recordings of the Fifth and Sixth have enjoyed a hugely successful press, the latter is now the version cited by critics in preference to Klemperer's legendary 1964 reading, whilst the former is a craggy, lofty view of an underrated symphony, titanically interpreted by Wand and the sturdy NDRSO. The Eighth and Ninth have also been re-recorded and they are also model interpretations of these great symphonic testaments. A wonderful two-disc set of the Schubert Eighth and Ninth was also a great success, no doubt due to his intense rapport with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, an orchestra with which Wand has always been intimately associated.

His death marks an end of an era for the legendary Brucknerians. Although we still have Chailly and Abbado as model interpreters, the German school in which wand was born and bred is no longer with us. At least, Günter Wand's substantial recorded legacy is testament to his faith and vision in interpreting the great masters of tradition.

Other Available Recordings

RCA 68314

Franz Schubert

  • Symphony #8 in B minor "Unfinished", D. 759
  • Symphony #9 in C Major "The Great", D. 944
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Günter Wand
RCA 68314
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RCA 61930

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Symphony #5 in C minor "Fate" Op. 67
  • Symphony #6 in F Major "Pastoral" Op. 68
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannover/Günter Wand
RCA 61930
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RCA 66458

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Symphony #1 in C Major, Op. 21
  • Symphony #2 in D Major, Op. 36
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannover/Günter Wand
RCA 66458
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RCA 72788
North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannover/Günter Wand
RCA 72788
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Wand's Brahms Cycle with the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra (deleted)
EMI 47824
Symphony #1, Op. 68
EMI 47824
EMI 47871
Symphony #2, Op. 73
EMI 47871
EMI 47872
Symphony #3, Op. 90
EMI 47872
EMI 47589
Symphony #4, Op. 98
EMI 47589
Wand's Bruckner Cycle with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra (deleted)
EMI 47742
Symphony #1 in C minor
"Vienna Version"
EMI 47742
EMI 47743
Symphony #2 in C minor
EMI 47743
EMI 47744
Symphony #3 in D minor
EMI 47744
EMI 47747
Symphony #6 in A Major
EMI 47747
EMI 47748
Symphony #7 in E Major
EMI 47748
EMI 47751
Symphony #9 in D minor
EMI 47751
EMI 47749
Symphony #8 in C minor
EMI 47749 (2CDs)

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