This DVD of a live performance of the Bruckner Symphony No. 7 with Günter Wand conducting, during the Schleswig Holstein Festival of 1999, one of Germany's great orchestras, the NDR Sinfonieorchester, had been previously included in an acclaimed box-set that contained a number of other works by Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert. But now it is released as a single DVD and I suspect there are those for whom this will be the DVD of choice. Wand came to the composer late but he became a quintessential Bruckner conductor who brought to the Austrian master's works a sense of line, grace, form and spirituality. He did not go in for the bluster that Bruckner's music seems to elicit from some conductors. This performance occurred very late in Wand's life -- indeed he is walked out to the podium on the arm of an assistant -- but one would never know it from the liveliness and elasticity of music he elicited. The NDR is in its finest form; one wonders, indeed, if they possibly realized that this might be one of the last times they would make music under their long-time favored conductor. At any rate, the music-making is of an elevated spirituality. All departments of the orchestra are outstanding. The huge brass section play subtly and richly, avoiding the temptation to blare and blast.
The high point of this symphony for most lovers of Bruckner's music is usually the second movement, Adagio. And it is so in this performance. This is a slow exalted hymn whose forward motion is never static. Wand uses the Haas edition, which many believe represents Bruckner's firmest convictions about the work, and thus he eschews the triangle, cymbals and timpani that sometimes conclude the movement. This flies in the face of German performance tradition for the work, but for me it maintains the elevated tone of this glorious movement, refusing to let it descend into a crowd-pleasing slam-bang conclusion.
For me, though, the surprise and delight is the third movement, Scherzo, which is lean and graceful rather than rustically galumphing as sometimes played. The NDR manage to play lightly and playfully. And they carry that mood over into the finale. Wonderful!
The performance took placed in the modern and acoustically superior Musik- und Congresshalle in Lübeck. Sound is LPCM stereo and is exceptionally lifelike. Videography is clear as can be and there are tasteful close-up and mid-distance shots of both Wand and the musicians that enhance the visual experience.
For those who are interested in such things, Wand recorded the same symphony a few months earlier with the Berlin Philharmonic and it is available on CD (not DVD).
I cannot recommend this disc highly enough, even though I still adore a competing DVD by Abbado at the Lucerne Festival (which also includes Alfred Brendel playing the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto). I wouldn't want to be without either of them.