Debussy, Mussorgsky

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COMPOSERS: Debussy,Mussorgsky
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Le martyre de Saint Sébastien: Symphonic Fragments
PERFORMER: NDR SO/Günter Wand
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 72788 2
Wand is now so associated with the German classics that it’s easy to forget that he once had a much wider repertoire. He doesn’t revisit it often these days – although Pictures was recorded live last year, the Debussy comes from his first concert as principal conductor of the NDR orchestra in 1982. To say that he treats it with the same respect and love as he does Bruckner is not a backhanded compliment. There’s a similar attention to the pacing of the music, so that everything is part of an organic whole. There’s an acute sense of orchestral balance, so that each note and chord has its due weight. And there’s that indefinable, almost ungraspable sense of the spirit of the music which Wand seems to penetrate so exactly. It’s the same in Pictures, where he’s more concerned with building an overall structure than living for the moment, though that doesn’t mean that the individual character of each picture is short-changed. ‘The Old Castle’ is as beautifully painted as you could want, with the solo saxophone, which can stick out like a sore thumb, singing in an almost human voice. And the Polish ox-cart lumbers along like a stately juggernaut, while the squabble between Goldenberg and Schmuyle has real waspishness. Some tempi are slower than in rival versions: if you want overt virtuosity, try Sinopoli and the New York Philharmonic on DG. It’s exciting, but you won’t find the nobility that Wand brings to the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’. Martin Cotton

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