BEETHOVEN: Overtures
BRUCKNER: Symphony no. 4

Filmed on 24 June 1990 at the Dom in L¸beck, this concert is a
fine example of Wand’s mastery of nineteenth-century repertoire. As
flawless as his recordings sound on CD, the video reveals the fact that he
conducted from memory, with the empty podium more a prop for the concert
venue than something more utile.

Apparently filmed for television, the video brings the higher-definition
images from German broadcasts to the DVD. More than the resolution, the sense
of a concert is conveyed with the combination of long pans and, more
importantly, and lingering shots. The frenetic quality that some directors
bring to the concert videos is absent from this recording, and this helps to
give it a sense of place. Not just a performance preserved in digital media,
this recording conveys the feel of the performance and its venue.

The concert opens with the familiar “Leonore III” Overture by
Beethoven, and as well-known as it is, Wand’s sense of drama makes it
worth attention. His cueing is, perhaps, as intriguing as the sound it
brings. Likewise, his range of gestures fits the breadth of the music and its
implicit drama. Wand shapes the sound in this resonant cathedral, something
that is welcome in live performances, like those of Helmut Rilling, and
others of his generation. Not just automatons beating time, these musicians
truly direct the musicians in their charge and create a dynamism that excites
the audience.

As much as the “Leonore III” Overture may be seen as a way to
warm up the orchestra, it the program is essentially Bruckner’s Fourth
Symphony, the one called “Romantic.” Dating from 1874, and
revised in 1878 and fitted with a new Finale in 1880, the Fourth is one of
Bruckner’s better-known works. While Bruckner further emended the score
in 1888, Wand used the Haas edition of 1936, which attempts to provide the
Originalfassung of the work. Notwithstanding the complicated history of the
Fourth Symphony, it may be regarded as the first of his works to embody the
stylistic elements associated with the composer’s symphonic works. No
longer relying on quotations as a structural device, as he had done in the
Third Symphony, Bruckner’s voice is apparent in the Fourth without the
need to rely on ideas from other composers to contribute to its substance.

Familiar to audiences because of its frequent inclusion in concert
programs, Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony is accessible because of the
concise motives that the composer develops throughout the work. The open
intervals with which the work begins help to set the tone for a work that is
built on fourths and fifths, with the horn calls stemming from them. As
predictable as that may be, Bruckner intensifies the rhythmic interest with
triplet figures that push three melodic notes against the underlying duple
meter. These stylistic traits are associated with Bruckner and they have
their origin in this work, which reflects, perhaps, more concision than the
composer used in his previous work. As fine a composition as the Third is,
the Fourth seems to be the quintessential Bruckner symphony.

In this recording, too, Wand allows Bruckner’s voice to emerge
clearly and without affectation. From the first notes of the opening
movement, Wand gives free rein to Bruckner’s music, as the horn call
gives way to its response by the woodwinds and eventually the full orchestra.
The setting in the L¸beck cathedral is an appropriate venue for the timbre,
which reverberates warmly in the surrounding acoustics. The attentiveness of
the audience is evidence of Wand’s command of the performance, which
seems, at times, more like a studio recording than a live concert. Wand plays
the orchestra as though he were Bruckner’s organist, with attention to
every detail. From the subtle gestures that create intimate sounds to the
majestic ones he used to bring out the structural climaxes in the score, Wand
interprets the music as if he had composed it himself. The response of the
musicians is evidence of the conductor’s presence, as is the
attentiveness of the audience, whose faces blur into those of the orchestra
in the various panned shots of the video.

The slow movement is no less powerful, and some of the images of
performers framed by Gothic arches help to establish the solemn tone of the
music. In this spirit, the Wand himself seems to have resisted the spirited
facial gestures that he used in the first movement, averting his eyes, as it
were, so as to avoid engaging the performers too vociferously. Such is not
the case in the Scherzo that follows, which Wand opens with a precise and
measured beat that keeps the lively spirit of the piece.

With the Finale, Wand allows the subtle orchestration to emerge clearly,
and the unirhythmic passages come through with rare precisions. The control
that is apparent in Wand’s conducting by no means restrains the
expressiveness of the performance. Without hurrying along the players, Wand
maintains a persuasive tempo that reinforces the sonata form of the Finale.
Wand’s interpretation of the Finale matches his concept of the opening
movement; the work revolves around the outer movements, with the inner ones
supporting the overall structure.

This is a fine video that captures a late performance by one of the finest
conductors of the twentieth century in exemplary form. While some of the
shots from one side of the cathedral might catch sight of film crew on
another part, the overall quality is impressive. Moreover, the sound is quite
fine, as should be the case with DVDs of concerts like this. This video has
much to recommend, as it preserves an outstanding Bruckner performance for
future generations to enjoy.

James L. Zychowicz

product_title=Ludwig van Beethoven: Overture “Leonore III”
Anton Bruckner:Symphony no. 4 “Romantic.”
product_by=NDR Sinfonieorchester, G¸nter Wand, conductor.
product_id=TDK COWAND05 [DVD]