TDK seems to be issuing a new DVD of Günter Wand conducting the NDR Symphony just about every month. And the repertoire is sometimes repeated even though I think the performances come from different years and locales. This one is of a live 1995 performance at the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival and was performed in the Musik- und Kongresshalle in Lübeck. It includes Schubert's last two symphonies, the No. 8 'Unfinished' and the the No. 9 'Great C Major'. Both performances find both the orchestra and conductor in fine form.
Most of us never saw or heard Wand conduct as he toiled primarily in relatively provincial obscurity, mostly in Cologne, until he was 'discovered' by the record companies late in life, and even then his performances were mostly in Germany, although he was for a time a guest conductor of the BBC Symphony. He conducted rarely in the US. He was noted for his insistence on numerous rehearsals, his meticulous attention to detail and his tendency to be a non-personality conductor. He took the podium, made minimal acknowledgement of the audience, and devoted himself to helping the orchestra make music. He was strongly associated with the music of Bruckner and Schubert.
These two performances are typical Wand. Both symphonies unwind at a fairly leisurely pace and there is great attention to instrumental detail. (The sonics, however, sometimes accentuate blend rather than spotlit detail.) The orchestra is an extraordinarily fine one and shines in all departments. The strings are capable of a silken sheen and incredibly soft pianissimi. The entire woodwind section is outstanding and I couldn't single out a particularly player as they are all simply marvelous. The brass can be sotto voce (listen to the little trumpet/trombone fanfares underneath the return of the oboe theme in the Great's second movement) but they can also be stentorian when needed. The horns' way with the opening theme of the Ninth is haunting and Wand does not make the mistake that some do of taking this introduction at too deliberate a pace. (Andante does not here mean s l o w but rather 'going'.) The mounting excitement of the Ninth's finale is exhilarating without becoming frantic.
A highlight of the 'Unfinished' is its entire second movement. Wand emphasizes its unexpected harmonic twists in the context of the movement's overall peaceful tone. The excursion into the tonally distant G sharp major (!) toward the end with the clarinets and bassoon singing as quietly as possible produces a delicious frisson. Marvelous.
The videography is fine with few things that call attention unduly to the process, although there is one artsy-fartsy spot where a very out-of-focus view of the horns superimposed over a long shot of the orchestra gradually comes into focus as the horns get to their statement of an important theme. There is much attention given to shots of Wand, and this is welcome because he is not only very interesting to watch, one can also learn from him. I particularly like the little smile he gives when his orchestra does something he particularly likes. He conducts each symphony without a score. Sound is of its time and although not up to current standards (simply LPCM stereo) it is generally fine.
I found this a quite satisfying performance of these two great symphonies and the overall visual/audio experience makes the DVD a pleasure to watch repeatedly.