September 15, 2005


Bruckner: Symphony No. 9. Günter Wand conducting Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR. Profil. $16.99.

Orff: Carmina Burana. Günter Wand conducting Hamburger Knabenchor St. Nikolai, Mitglieder des Opernchors des Niedersächsischen Staatstheaters Hannover, NDR Chor and NDR Sinfonieorchester. Profil. $16.99.

     Günter Wand (1912-2002) left a substantial discography, so it is not immediately clear why there is a need for Profil’s very extensive “Günter Wand Edition.”  But listening to these two recordings from the series makes its niche quite evident.  These are very special renditions of the works, both recorded live (the Bruckner in 1979, the Orff in 1984), and both providing insights into the music beyond those in other versions by Wand and other conductors.

     This Bruckner Ninth is an especially moving experience, being a performance that Wand himself remembered and discussed years later (the included booklet quotes the conductor as saying he couldn’t put this concert out of his mind).  This is an astonishingly cohesive performance imbued with great understanding, from the truly amazing, very Wagnerian opening (the indication Misterioso has never been better observed), through a first movement that gleams with feeling; a scherzo whose odd, ghostly flickering veers from surprising to genuinely eerie; and a third movement that builds beautifully and inexorably to its famed, unresolvable, dissonant climactic chord, then restarts and closes with a feeling of peace that passes all understanding.  The performance was given before more than 3,500 people in the Benedictine Basilica of Ottobeuren, and the audience sat in silence afterwards for a full 10 minutes.  A quarter of a century later, this Bruckner Ninth remains spellbinding.

     Carmina Burana provides the strongest possible contrast.  This is not a work with which Wand is usually associated, but in fact he was quite attached to it, and clearly had a highly individual, even idiosyncratic idea of how to perform it – at least on the basis of this recording. Instead of setting clear tempi for each brief section and letting the contrasts between sections carry the work forward, Wand finds ways to vary the tempo within individual sections: the first half of O Fortuna is slower than the second, for instance, and In taberna quando sumus has more tempo variations than Orff wrote.  Also, although this is essentially a vocal work, Wand displays the orchestra quite prominently and lavishes a great deal of attention on the brief orchestra-only sections, such as the dance at the start of the Uf dem anger section. The soloists here are not all of equal quality.  The best is baritone Peter Binder, who has the most music and tries – presumably guided by Wand – to interpret different sections with different characterizations, an approach more seen in opera than in cantata.  Soprano Maria Venuti has a lovely voice, ethereal when it needs to be, though again with operatic inflections.  But tenor Ulf Kenklis is a disappointment, seeming to have difficulty with his range and even losing his falsetto at one unfortunate moment in the song of the roasting swan, Olim facis colueram.  This Carmina Burana seems unusually episodic, with some lovely touches and a few missteps – not a great performance, but one that is definitely worthy of a profile series, especially as it demonstrates a less-known side of Wand’s musical interests.

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