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Monday, April 21, 2008

Memories of a Great Conductor

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58 [29:59]
Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 92 in G, Hob: I:92 [24:24]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in a minor for violin and strings, BWV 1041 [13:58]

Robert Casadesus, piano
Roland Greutter, violin
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie Orchester (now the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln) (Beethoven and Haydn)
NDR Sinfonieorchester (Bach)

Recorded 6 March, 1970 (Beethoven); 20 April, 1967 (Haydn), 15-17 March, 1992, (Bach). Specific recording locales not given, but were most likely made in the studios of the North German Radio.

PROFIL PH 06006 [68:40]

Profil have been mining the vaults for some time now and have released this nineteenth volume of recordings, most of them from live broadcasts, by the late conductor Günter Wand. Maestro Wand was a modest man whose remarkably long career took him to rather vast reaches of the repertoire, but never particularly far from home. He was not the typical jet setting guest conductor that we have grown at least tolerant of, if not accustomed to in recent years. Rather, he stayed around the house and developed his Cologne Orchestra in to a fine and well trained instrument. This program of well known works by three of music’s ubiquitous names shows just how much Wand was grounded in the classics, and how this mastery of classical structure and form led to his masterful interpretations of the music of Schubert, Brahms and especially Bruckner.

Robert Casadesus, that most elegant of Frenchmen is the soloist in this performance of the Beethoven Fourth Concerto that is characterized by an immense warmth in the string sound, and a beautiful cantabile from both soloist and orchestra. Recorded very near the end of Casadesus’ life, his playing shows a maturity and assurance that few achieve. Never short of virtuosic panache, has Mr. Casadesus also never stepped outside of the realm of good taste. Tempos are perfectly chosen and balance between soloist and orchestra is just right. I was particularly moved by the joyous romp through the concerto’s final movement with its highly decorative melody and its playful banter between the soloist and the various sections of the orchestra. My review copy had one little flaw, however. There was an editing error at the very beginning of the concerto causing a rather jarring and audible blip before the beautifully serene opening solo chords of the first movement. This will hopefully be removed before the next run.

Haydn’s Oxford symphony is a bit too ponderous for my tastes. There could be less weight in the strings, and the allegros and prestos could be a bit more of each. This is a performance more akin to those of say, Bruno Walter, whose turgid tempi in classical repertoire has always made me wonder why people called him a great Mozartean, but I digress. Perhaps I am more accustomed now to period instrument performances of Haydn, but this recording made me think that the music was as stuffy as the institution for which it is named.

Speaking of purists and period instruments, this reading of Bach’s a minor violin concerto will not be one for the HIP crowd. Yet, it is beautifully and elegantly played, even if Roland Greutter turns on the vibrato a bit more heavily than is considered tasteful today, and tosses in a couple of juicy portamenti. It is still kind of fun to hear some meaty Bach, and hearing him played in this style leads me to regret that the music of the baroque masters has all but disappeared from modern symphony orchestra programs.

Anachronisms and all this is still a beautiful hour of music, and we can be thankful to Profil for bringing the work of this fine conductor to a wider audience. One can hope that there is still more material whence came this disc!

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