LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 7 in E
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Günter Wand
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 68716 2
This is special: the kind of performance that holds the ear with the very first sounds and keeps its grip until the final reverberation has died away. Like Karajan, Wand has a powerful grasp of Bruckner’s musical architecture. Put an orchestra of the calibre of the Berlin Philharmonic at his disposal and there’s simply no one alive who can match him for grandeur and intensity, and the kind of sound which can be rich and rounded yet reveal details glossed over in other performances. You could say similar things about Karajan’s last recording, with the Vienna Philharmonic. But Wand has something else. Karajan may create impressive cathedrals or landscapes in sound; Wand introduces the human element. His melodic phrasing speaks – subtly; there’s never any exaggeration, but every accent, every minute pause seems ideally placed. It makes Wand’s Bruckner intimate as well as grand, warm as well as imposing. Tempi are nicely judged: the driving, pounding dance rhythms of the scherzo, the solemn tread of the Adagio (slow, reverential, but not heavy), the gently purposeful current which bears the opening theme aloft – well, Bruckner does mark it Allegro moderato, but how often it sounds merely ponderous. The recording is as clear and warm-toned as the playing deserves, with ‘live’ audience noise reduced to a near-miraculous minimum (though someone manages an expertly timed cough just at the start of the slow movement’s noble brass elegy). One textual point: Wand leaves out the timpani, cymbals and triangle at the climax of the Adagio. Unusual, but their inclusion wasn’t Bruckner’s idea, and as Wand shows, the music is magnificent enough without them.