Anton Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major
NDR Symphony Orchestra, Günter Wand (conductor)
Recorded live at the Musik- und Kongresshalle, Lubeck (11 July 1998) – 82’
ArtHaus Musik 107 243 – Notes in English, German, and French
This DVD gives a high priestly impression of a live performance, given that (a) it is one of Anton Bruckner’s transcendental communings with the ineffable, and (b) the conductor is 86 years old (and keep in mind that he didn’t feel worthy of approaching the work until he was 62.)
Günter Wand (1912 - 2002) was born the same year as Georg Solti (1912 - 1997) and Sergiu Celidibache (1912 - 1996), just four years after Herbert von Karajan (1908 - 1989.) He never had the international profile of these and other peers as he spent decades (1939-74) in Cologne, rebuilding that city’s musical life after the destruction of World War II. In 1982 (age 70) he took over the NDR (North German Radio) Orchestra in Hamburg; at the time of this recording he was the group’s conductor emeritus. International engagements (few but invariably prestigious) came late in life.
While it an be argued that watching an orchestra play such a transcendental work reduces the mystery (or mystique) of the work (although while listening to this fine performance you can always close your eyes), it is noteworthy that Wand makes it look easy. No leaping, dancing, sweating or rapt gazing heavenwards. (The results of effort are visible at times as brass players’ faces begin to redden during the great chorale passages.) Wand might almost stand accused of mere traffic-directing (although if such are the results of “mere” traffic-directing, let’s have more of it.)
What emerges is an object lesson in watchful, careful direction from a conductor who knows what he is doing in front of an orchestra whose members know what they are doing.
While this is a live performance, there is no unwanted noise from the rapt audience.
This symphony has a huge discography, although many recordings have received several re-issues (this performance was initially released on the Denon label, for example.) This performance, by the way, uses the Robert Haas edition.
All in all, an absorbing aural and visual experience.