...what you get here is a youthful fire that's astonishing from a conductor...
John Armstrong 2002-11-20
Günter Wand makes no secret of the fact that he thinks Bruckner is the most important symphonist since Beethoven; we don't have to agree with him, but we should certainly listen to what he has to say about a composer he holds in such high regard.
You may find yourself learning things about Bruckner you never knew before...for instance Bruckner can dance, and with great dignity as well (Scherzo). That even the most monumental passages of the Eighth Symphony are full of romantic warmth, if you just know how to find it. That the diffident Austrian organist's symphonies are not necessarily analogous to cathedral architecture...they're always compared to monumental stone spaces, where incense hangs heavy in the air, and any sound takes several seconds to decay. Well, Wand has news for us: that's just one way of approaching these works, and it may be a dead-end.
He's found a way of making Bruckner's Eighth Symphony communicate more directly, more emotionally. It's not enough here to sit back and be impressed with the structure and the sheer grandeur of the design - Wand demands a human, emotional response, recognition that it's not a heart of stone that keeps this music alive, and if anything the spiritual gains are greater.
When it comes to recording Bruckner, I suppose this could still be Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic...but these days it's a younger orchestra. What you get here is the polish, the weight, and the surefooted approach to the longest of phrases familiar from the classic Karajan recordings, plus a new warmth, almost heart-on-sleeve romanticism (try the opening of the Adagio), and a youthful fire that's astonishing from a conductor celebrating his 90th birthday. This new Eighth is more rewarding (and better recorded) than either of Wand's earlier accounts, and it has to be up there with the very best. I usually need a break after one of Bruckner's symphonic epics, but with this new recording I couldn't wait to hear it again, so if you don't mind...
Andrew McGregor - presenter of CD Review on Radio 3