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CLASSICAL  June 2007

CLASSICAL June 2007

Subject:

Guenter Wand ... and it's NOT BRUCKNER!

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 11 Jun 2007 07:08:52 -0500

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text/plain

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Guenter Wand
20th Century

*  Stravinsky: Concerto for piano, winds, double-bass, and kettledrums
(rev. 1930)
*  Zimmermann: Symphony in One Movement (1951/1953)
*  Fortner: Symphony for Large Orchestra (1947)
*  Ligeti: Lontano for large orchestra (1967)

Nikita Magaloff (piano),
NDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Guenter Wand
Edition Guenter Haenssler PH05042 Total time: 72:15

Summary for the Busy Executive: The other Guenter Wand.

I suppose when you ask most music-lovers about Guenter Wand, they think
of the Brucknerian.  Because of my musical interests, that idea struck
me as more than a little strange.  While I like Bruckner's music, I don't
thrill to it, like his ardent fans, or even seek it out very often.  A
little Bruckner seems to go a long way with me.  However, I do love the
Twentieth Century, and Wand had built his Cologne and Hamburg bands into
European powerhouses of Modern rep, along with Rosbaud's and Gielen's
Southwest German Radio Symphony.  Nevertheless, none of these men
specialized in the Modern and Contemporary.  They all could do other
things superbly: Rosbaud, a great Mozart conductor, Gielen magisterial
in Beethoven and Mahler.

However, Wand in particular felt a mission.  He took over the Cologne
Radio Symphony just after the war.  Creative German musical life had
crumbled.  The Third Reich had either killed or exiled most of their
first-rank composers.  Schoenberg, Hindemith, Toch, Korngold, and Weill,
had left for the United States and didn't intend to come back.  Schulhoff,
Haas, Kremer, and Ullmann perished in concentration camps.  Generations
of young composers had been both denied the teaching of these men and
cut off from a Modernist mainstream.  Arguably, Germany has yet to
recover.  But for the brief emergence of the "Darmstadt School," the
new-music action still seems to have happened largely elsewhere.  Wand
saw it as his duty to encourage the young guard, as far as he was able.
He also didn't want to perform works he didn't believe in.  In general,
he chose somewhat conservatively -- Zimmermann rather than Stockhausen,
for example -- and he did turn down works that fortunately went on to
have a life outside his orbit.  Yet, he indeed took chances and for the
best of reasons.

This CD consists of broadcast recordings.  Here and there, one finds
minor fluffs, but these don't detract from, in general, stunning accounts.
The Stravinsky and Ligeti are classics and the Zimmermann and Fortner
certainly not less than interesting.

In fact, despite some stumbles on the orchestral "stings" in the second
movement, I don't hesitate to award Wand's performance of the Stravinsky
piano concerto pride of place.  Indeed, he and soloist Nikita Magaloff
have changed my notions of this work, which usually comes across as a
trifle stodgy (or "monumental," if you like it).  That's certainly the
case of the composer's Sony recording with Entremont, all in all a
misfire.  The later Capriccio, written for Stravinsky's own piano
capabilities and concert use (he claimed to lack sufficient left-hand
technique for the concerto), engages a listener far more.  However, under
the leadership of Wand and Magaloff, Stravinsky's stiff monument becomes
electric, a wild thrill ride in the first and last movements, beautifully
lyrical in the slow movement.  You can hear links to the slow movements
of Ravel's G-major concerto and Poulenc's concerto, the latter at least
a quarter-century down the road.  One doesn't often imagine Stravinsky's
music as tender, though he does indeed have his tender moments.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann's symphony shows close affinities with the
Brucknerian symphony, although it runs far shorter.  One hears in it
a concern to connect with the German symphonic tradition as well as to
innovate.  Zimmermann's high sense of mission ultimately hurt him.  Music
was "more than music." It had to change not only individuals, but whole
societies.  Zimmermann, born in 1918, took his own life in 1970, after
his best work, the opera Die Soldaten, failed to transform the moral
face of Western Culture.  Like most one-movement symphonies, Zimmermann's
breaks down into sections: an intro, a march, a funeral march, a scherzo,
and a quick conclusion, with slow interludes cropping up along the way.
The whole thing sounds almost dodecaphonically tight, but I can't tell
without a score.  It's mainly a cry, a lament that wants to get inside
you.  Keeping it all together couldn't have been easy, but Wand and his
band give you something deep and Romantic.

Fortner's symphony, on the other hand, counts as my first acquaintance
with this composer's work.  Fortner taught both Zimmermann and Henze,
and Henze may have learned his clear scoring from Fortner.  Fortner's
work surprised me, due to its resemblances to the propulsive American
neoclassicism of the Forties.  I suppose that Stravinsky's Symphony in
C and Symphony in Three Movements provide the link.  It's a very attractive
work, full of vigor and drive, but not iconic.  Younger composers,
including Henze and Zimmermann, chose different paths.

One of those different paths was cut by Ligeti, and you've got to give
Wand credit for his championing of this composer.  Wand also programmed
Atmospheres (1961).  Both that and Lontano update musical Impressionism
and spawned a raft of knock-offs, most of which have sunk without regret.
The different comes down to the fact that, unlike his imitators, Ligeti
was an inspired composer.  Lontano is a study in melting and shifting
colors as well as dynamics.  There's no melody, harmony, or even much
in the way of distinguishable rhythm.  Yet the piece fascinates as a
kind of tour de force.  Superficially, it reminds most listeners of a
wash of sound, like the similar vocal effects in Lux aeterna, used in
Kubrick's 2001.  In both cases, however, "wash" really is the wrong word.
Close listening reveals a canny exploitation of ambiguities of timbre
among instruments -- one can mistake an oboe in a certain register for
a trumpet, for example.  The method has its roots in Webern, particularly
in that composer's orchestration of the Musical Offering's Ricercar, but
Ligeti changes the emphasis.  In Webern, the orchestration illuminates
structure.  In Ligeti, the orchestration pretty much is the structure.
Every event, precisely notated (no aleatoric "vamp 'til ready"), sparked
interest among composers in how Ligeti pulled it off.  This led not only
to new techniques, but to new cliches of contemporary music, from which
Ligeti himself remained blessedly free.  If ever a composer might be
called visionary, it's Ligeti.  And his vision of how music could move
and sound changed significantly and more than once over the years.

An extreme attentiveness and rhythmic crackle distinguish all the
performances on the CD. Wand insisted on something like eight rehearsals
for every performance, so nothing sounds slapdash or hurriedly considered.
The amount of detail impresses as well as the amount of forethought with
each score.  The music sounds as if it has become part of these players,
a spontaneous expression that paradoxically comes only after a great
amount of work.  The sound is good, but not luxurious.  That wouldn't
suit these works anyway.

Steve Schwartz

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