Bruckner, Schubert: Symphony No. 4 (Romantic)

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COMPOSERS: Bruckner,Schubert
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 (Romantic)
PERFORMER: NDR SO/Günter Wand
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 93041 2
Günter Wand’s last recorded concert (made a few months before his 90th birthday) is full of beauty and insight – as you’d expect from one of the great interpreters of the Austro-German symphonic repertoire. There’s the fine phrasing, generous one moment, delicate the next; the orchestral sound that manages to be richly rounded and multi-layered at the same time; and the intensity that seems to come from deep within the music. I have to admit, though, that there were also one or two things here I found puzzling. As the first movement of the Bruckner approaches its goal, there’s a drop in tempo – slight but enough to weigh the music down. Still, the return of the horn theme, fortissimo, at the end, is thrilling. More perplexing is Wand’s decision to take the slow movement of the Schubert in two radically different tempi: solemn and expansive for the first theme, much faster for the troubled middle section. He clearly means to stress the difference in character between these two kinds of music, but I think this is one of those very rare occasions when he went too far. But one of the most vital aspects of Wand’s conducting was that his ‘take’ on even the best-known works would change with time. Not perhaps the most repeatable versions of these two symphonies, but a moving record of a remarkable late flowering. Stephen Johnson

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