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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (1845) [31:31]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K550 (1788) [25:20]
Gerhard Oppitz (piano)
NDR Sinfonieorchester/Günter Wand
rec. live, 21 March 1983 (Schumann), 17 December 1990 (Mozart), Hamburg Musikhalle, Germany
PROFIL EDITION PH13030 [57:07] 

The year 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of German conductor Günter Wand (1912-2002). Probably the last of the great interpreters of the ninetieth-century Austro-German symphonic tradition it is wonderful to see that in recent decades Wand has finally been given the recognition that his talent richly deserved.
 
This single disc is one of a number of live recordings that Wand made with the NDR in Hamburg. I’m not sure if these live performances have been release before. With regard to the Mozart symphony it is not same performance that Wand recorded with the same orchestra at the same venue in March 1994. As the number of high quality releases have demonstrated, the archive of live recordings of made-for-radio broadcasts has served Wand’s legacy well over the years. If it was the policy of the radio companies to archive the Wand broadcasts then there is plenty of exciting potential for future releases.

Born in 1912 at Elberfeld, Germany, Wand was over seventy before his talents became recognised internationally. It comes as no surprise that Wand always insisted on receiving ample rehearsal time. Although his relatively few commercial recordings involved considerable duplication of his much loved Bruckner, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert his concert repertoire was considerably wider. Early in his career Wand championed the cause of a number of then contemporary composers such as Edgard Varèse, Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Frank Martin, Olivier Messiaen and György Ligeti.
 
Wand did valuable work in the post-Second World War development of German radio orchestras. Notably with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne he recorded complete cycles of the Schubert and Bruckner symphonies on RCA Red Seal. With the NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg, where Wand served as principal conductor, he also recorded cycles of the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies. In addition he successfully collaborated with the Munich Philharmonic and the two main Berlin orchestras. His glorious live performances with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and especially with those few with the Berliner Philharmoniker number amongst his most successful recordings. Wand’s live Bruckner Symphonies 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 with the Berliner Philharmoniker are my reference recordings.
 
Wand also had an excellent relationship with the NDR Sinfonieorchester serving as their principal conductor in the years 1982-91. He was appointed their honorary conductor in 1987. With the NDR Sinfonieorchester Wand recorded the complete symphonies of Beethoven (1986/88) and Brahms (1982/83) for RCA Red Seal and did so to considerable acclaim. The Hamburg orchestra had been established after the war in 1945 and named the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Hamburg. The orchestra’s principal conductors have included Klaus Tennstedt, Herbert Blomstedt, Christoph Eschenbach, John Eliot Gardiner and Christoph von Dohnányi. The NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg deserve to be far better known on the international stage.
 
I was fortunate to review a five disc anniversary box set titled Edition Günter Hänssler consisting of eight live recordings that Wand made with the NDR Sinfonieorchester between the years 1982 and 1996 at the Hamburg Musikhalle and the Cologne Philharmonie.

Today the Hamburg orchestra’s performing prowess remains at an extremely high standard. In June 2012 at the Dresden Music Festival I attended a concert by the NDR Sinfonieorchester under Thomas Hengelbrock. Giving a programme of Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 I can report their excellent playing.
 
German soloist Gerhard Oppitz here plays Schumann’s Piano Concerto. One of the most famous and best loved of all piano concertos Schumann successfully combines resolute musical substance with brilliant virtuosity. The score was introduced in 1845 in Dresden with Clara Schumann as soloist.
 
In the opening Allegro affettuoso movement the playing has a noticeably calm assurance. Such is its quality that it is easy to immerse oneself in the music. The effect is one that allows an atmosphere of warm affection to emerge from the drama. In the hands of the persuasive Oppitz the Intermezzo markedAndantino grazioso is tenderly poetic - as light as feather-down. Joy and vibrancy are the watchwords in the Allegro Vivace. Exquisite and poised playing grips the listener and the orchestra provides admirable accompaniment throughout. With such enthusiastic applause the audience clearly loved the performance as much as I did.
 
Composed in 1788, Symphony No. 40 was written during a highly productive period for Mozart. This profoundly emotional work contains, amid a torrent of romanticism, an intensely affecting meeting of the sad and the idyllic. Classicism and romanticism combine in ideal balance. I was immediately struck by the sincerity and integrity of Wand’s plainly unaffected performance in which a decisive pulse is maintained throughout. Delightfully moulded the Andante with its slight suggestions of dark undercurrents is winningly done.There is a fresh outdoor feel to the Minuetto - never forced and never given unnecessary weight. In the Finale marked Allegro assai Wand’s interpretation is appealingly strong and direct. He resists any temptation to hurry and his tempo feels well judged.

These two live recordings have been engineered to a high standard being especially clear and well balanced. The applause has been left in at the end of the Schumann concerto but there is no applause for the Mozart symphony. These performances will undoubtedly appeal to lovers of the late-Romantic Austro-German tradition and admirers of Günter Wand’s conducting will be in their element.
 
Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Mozart symphony 40 ~~ Schumann piano concerto

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