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DVD Review

Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival 1997

North German Radio Symphony Orchestra/Günter Wand
TDK DVWW-COWAND7 DVD 81min LPCM Stereo Anamorphic Widescreen
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Here's another release in TDK's rewarding series of live Günter Wand performances, recorded at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival in Kiel. Wand's long career as a conductor really took off internationally only in the last two decades of his life, when music-lovers discovered his Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, and Schubert recordings on the brand-new CD medium. Soon the major labels were trying to capture the conductor's "Indian summer," and even since the conductor's death in 2002 there has been a stream of live video and audio recordings. TDK already has released DVDs of several of Wand's Bruckner performances from the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, and it is to be hoped that more material is awaiting release. This DVD contains material from 1997.

It hasn't been two weeks since I reviewed a EuroArts DVD of Leonard Bernstein's Brahms First with the Israel Philharmonic, so comparisons between Bernstein and Wand are inescapable. Bernstein, the eternal showman, seems to have been out to wow the Israelis with his performance, which is big, lumbering, and emotionally overwrought. Brahms' highs and lows are extended to almost Mahlerian proportions. Wand, on the other hand, takes a more modest approach. One would be able to discern this even with the sound turned completely down, just from the two conductors' podium styles. Wand calmly and precisely caresses sound out of his orchestra, with little unnecessary movement – granted he was physically frail by 1997. Wand's tempos are faster, and the orchestral playing is neat and precise, yet with an appropriate weight and grandeur. Bernstein slows the music down to make dramatic points, and the sound of the Israel Philharmonic is impressionistic and smeary. I disliked some of the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra's playing, however – for example, the watery horn solo in the finale. Wand also allows himself what might be called a "Bernstein moment" in the finale's coda, broadening the tempo of a culminating brass fanfare. This is unexpected but forgivable; in this performance, Wand earns it

The Schubert can be played with more charm than this. Wand's conservative reading is not very smiling, although it has many affectionate touches, and is gorgeously played by the orchestra.

The camera work, while limited in its variety, is nevertheless effective. Much of the time we are looking at the conductor. There are a few shots of the organ in the Kieler Schloss, which is interesting, because neither symphony includes a part for the organ! The sound (LPCM stereo) is good but not spectacular, as is the Anamorphic Widescreen image.

Copyright © 2007, Raymond Tuttle