In recent years, and before his death in 2002 at age 90, Gunter Wand had become a household name in the classical world as one of the last great living conductors of the pre-World War II era. But long before his "Indian Summer" success story, Wand made some brilliant recordings that are now being reissued by the Testament label. Popularity found Wand late in life, and one of the reasons may be traced back to a career decision made in the early 1950s. Wand was given the opportunity by Walter Legge to join the great roster of conductors at EMI and make a few recordings, or record a larger body of work with the French subscription music club, Club Francaise du Disque. Wand, always one to put the music first, chose the latter, though the former would have surely brought him fame and fortune more quickly.
This CD presents Wand's mono recording of Beethoven's 4th Symphony and his stereo account of Beethoven's 5th, both made with the Orchestra of the Gurzenich of Cologne in 1956. Of Wand's five Beethoven titles originally made for Club Francaise du Disque, and now reissued by Testament, this is the one to get -- of all these Symphony recordings, only the 5th and 7th are in stereo, and the 4th and 5th make for a better coupling. With that being said, all the performances are truly first-rate, and Wand prided himself in a direct, straightforward reading of Beethoven's Symphonies without any extra bells and whistles for emphasis, additions he often criticized his colleagues for including. While Wand's philosophy was a harbinger of the original-instruments movement, make no mistake his orchestra is thoroughly modern. Wand did not set down a full Beethoven Symphony Cycle at this time -- the 6th and 8th were recorded earlier in the subscription service by another conductor, and duplication was frowned upon. For collectors, this is disappointing but understandable, and for the average fan, I doubt they would pay full-price (x6 discs!) for a Beethoven Cycle anyway. But if you do decide to purchase any or all of these glorious Gunter Wand reissues, you are in for a treat.