Beethoven: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: RCA
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Edith Wiens (soprano), Hildegard Hartwig (contralto), Keith Lewis (tenor), Roland Hermann (bass); Hamburg State Opera Chorus, North German Radio Choir & SO/GünterWand
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 20277 2 DDD (1985-88)
Günter Wand represents the best German tradition – his performances are reliable, forthright, paying scrupulous attention to the score (as you might expect from the world’s leading Bruckner conductor); and in his particular case we are attracted by his great modesty and decency.

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This cycle of Beethoven symphonies must be ranked as one of the finest ever made, and its sterling qualities are matched by a broad sound which also carefully picks up all Wand’s very original concepts of the Beethovenian sound. This quirky aspect of Beethoven’s scoring — a direct inheritance from his teacher Haydn and at considerable variance with the rich, blended Mozartian sound — is of course a reflection of the Urtext reading.

Not for Wand the invented trumpet parts at the end of the Eroicas first movement, not for him the insane doublings in the opening movement of the Fifth, and especially not for him the Wagnerian ‘improvements’ in the Ninth’s instrumentation. Wand also observes all the repeats: when I was young I never once heard them in a concert (eg the slow movement of the First and the opening movement of the Eroica).

All this gives the characteristic Beethovenian structure and sound. It was the kind of thing that was modified and smoothed out by conductors like Karajan, whose luscious Beethoven performances in no way reflect the highly idiosyncratic sound which the scores suggest are what the composer wanted.

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Wand’s vocal soloists in the Ninth have not the star quality of Schwarzkopf & Co (as in Karajan’s old Ninth), but they are steady, reliable and part of the general Wand concept. Indeed I was very moved by the entire Wand series: sometimes I felt that I was ‘present at the creation’. This was the nearest that we shall get, I thought, to what Beethoven had in mind, given that we are dealing with present-day instruments. If you prefer original instruments, there is the new Gardiner set (Archiv) to gloat over. HC Robbins London