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CD Review

Anton Bruckner

Symphony #4 in E Flat Major "Romantic"

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Günter Wand
RCA Red Seal 09026-68839-2 DDD 68:40
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This recording already has received critical recognition in Europe, and the American press will not be far behind. It was taped in concert on the nights of January 30-31 and February 1, 1998 in the Berlin Philharmonie, and it is one of the finest Bruckner discs I've ever heard.

For most collectors, the connection between Wand and Bruckner goes back to the recordings that he made with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. These originally were released on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, and later on RCA Victor Gold Seal. The "Romantic" released in that series comes from 1976. In the interim – it doesn't seem like 22 years! – Wand has made many recordings, and Bruckner's music has remained central to his repertoire.

Born in 1912, Wand was on the far side of his 80s when he conducted this new Berlin version. Although his tempos have become a little more expansive, his interpretation has become, if anything, younger. Melodies sing out more alluringly, rhythms are given greater spring, phrasing is more supple, and orchestral textures are more open. Of course the Berliners surpass the Cologne orchestra, even in a live setting, and improvements in the recording process (the earlier recordings were analogue) make a difference as well.

There are a few minor imperfections in the orchestral playing, but they take nothing away from this recording's excellence. Like Karl Böhm's Vienna Philharmonic version (recently reissued in Decca's Legends series), Wand's new Bruckner balances the humanity and the spiritual grandeur of the composer's vision. Wand's friendly and compelling conducting belies Bruckner's reputation as a difficult, long-winded composer. Men like Böhm and Wand succeed through patience and through their belief in the listeners' innate receptivity; these is no need for hysteria and obvious point-making. Georg Tintner passed away just as he was gaining deserved recognition for his Bruckner recordings on the Naxos label. Tintner's death leaves Wand as today's reigning Brucknerian. Now it would be good to hear his most recent thoughts on other composers with whom he has been associated, notably Schubert and Beethoven.

RCA's recording team captures the glow of the orchestra and its wonderful hall. Occasional coughs and other audience noises are not distracting, given the concentration of the music-making. You will be pulled into this performance, even if you tend to resist Bruckner's symphonies. This is a must-get recording.

Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle