As essentially a newcomer to Bruckner, I chose this set on the basis of numerous recommendations. It's a tough field, as with any classical works, as different listeners will like different approaches. These are solid performances, which perhaps stay on the safe side, with regard to expressiveness and dynamics, while respecting the music. Personally, I like this music because it doesn't shout and attempt to draw attention to itself, and it requires a careful touch to reveal the textures of the soundscapes, establish suitable tempos, and foreswear drama and over-emphasis. The one reservation I have regarding this set is that the sound can seem compressed(and that the final disc contains both the 9th symphony and one movement of the 8th). Other reviewers have praised the sound on these recordings, so the flattening may be a function of my audio equipment. As another reviewer has pointed out, one set of performances is not enough, and the sets by Jochum and Celibidache both come highly recommended as well.
I first listened to Bruckner through the 9th symphony as a free disc with the BBC Music magazine years ago. Initially bought the Barenboim/BPO set, which is very good. I was blown away by the first movement of the 4th and soon wanted to try other recordings. The reviews of this set are accurate, in that that the sound quality and life in the music is astonishing, and a bargain to boot. Very interesting to compare the tempo and sound between sets; for example I noticed a huge difference between the Wand and the Barenboim in the 4th! I think the Wand / BPO next!
Apart from Bach, Bruckner is the one composer I couldn't imagine living without. One of my greatest musical memories is seeing Gunter Wand in his late eighties conducting the Fifth Symphony at the BBC Proms. He was frail and conducted sitting down but some intangible magic happened and by the final chords nobody in the hall could have doubted that they had been privy to truly great music-making. In person Wand appears to have been cantankerous, sometimes downright unpleasant and prone to sudden cancellation for no good reason but as John Drummond said in his Guardian obituary "... few conductors of our time have come closer to a deep understanding of either Schubert or Bruckner. Putting up with the insults was almost always worth it in the end."
There are certain individual Bruckner recordings which I will always treasure - Bohm's awe-inspiring Fourth and Giuilini's incandescent Seventh both with the Vienna Philharmonic are good examples - but Wand's cycle is much more than the sum of its parts. There is a unity to the performances which is difficult to define but which makes it a journey through Bruckner's soundscape under the expert guidance of one of his greatest and most faithful interpreters. With Wand on the podium you can almost feel Bruckner's development from gauche, monkish organist to symphonic giant. The absence of the Nullte is a pity but otherwise it's impossible to find anything negative to say about these wonderful, heartfelt performances.
As Romulus has already pointed out, the sound engineering is excellent. There is never any need to dive for the volume control to boost the soft passages or rein in the tuttis. Just put on your chosen disc, sit back, close your eyes and be transported to Bruckner heaven.
There are no notes but references are hardly difficult to find.
To have an almost complete set of Bruckner symphonies (the "Nullte" is not included) is a source of great satisfaction for me. Wand was one of the foremost Bruckner interpreters, and his meticulous rehearsals with the NGRSO were legendary. There are many other worthy contenders for individual honours including of course Haitink, but for me this set will be something of a touchstone against which to assess the others. The sound quality is very good, although upper strings are a little edgy (and there is a lot of scoring for upper strings). Wand's readings of these symphonies matured with age, and he even seems to have had small revisions between performances at times. These recordings are from the middle-aged Wand; I would dearly have loved to have a set from his later years, as his live performances and broadcasts set an even higher standard. For now at least, this will be my benchmark.