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.
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.
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!
Haven't had anything like enough time yet to hear them all, but I don't expect to be critical of Wand performances. However I AM critical of Sony's penny-pinching lack of any documentation whatsoever - nothing but timings and performance dates on each CD sleeve in the box. Maybe they didn't buy the copyright? Shame.
Perhaps with a confession. I first came across Dr Gunter Wand through an old 78 of my dad's of The Mastersingers overture. Awful it was. Pure stodge.
So why did I, 40 or 50 years later, buy this complete set of Bruckner symphonies by a conductor I'd had such a bad, albeit brief, experience of. Because I read the reviews of all the others who'd bought from the set from Amazon and thought "These people can't all be wrong". I was swept up by their combined enthusiasm. And aren't I glad.
This set is just out of this world.
The playing of the Cologne orchestra is of such a consistently high standard you rarely hear. Absolutely flawless. And the recording has such depth, warmth and sheer clarity.
The combination of that with such glorious interpretations just stopped me in my tracks. No "read the newspaper with music in the background" with this set. The attention to detail is awesome. In every single symphony you hear something new which makes you sit up. And yet it all sounds so natural. I won't give further detail, because as I said at the beginning "Where do I start?
Just buy it, listen intently to it, and be blown away by it.
The Mastersingers 78 has long since gone. But this Bruckner set I shall treasure for many years to come before I wear it out.
Well recorded Bruckner from Wand which often sounds like a magical journey through the Alps . Treat yourself to several hours of music that is both grandiose and mysterious and still seems to be growing in stature .
Is that none of his symphonies are mediocre. I only really started paying attention to him a couple of years ago as a result of all the discussion about him on the Amazon Classical Music forum. I got the Jochum EMI set, listened to them all, identified some of the particularly beautiful bits, and knew I had made a friend for life. But as I find so often, its only when you come to something the second time around, presumably after some subconscious alchemical assimilation has taken place, that the really deep connections start to be made. I caught the second movement of Wand's seventh on Radio 3 a few months back, and I immediately went home and ordered this set. This time around has been such a wonderful and life enhancing journey. I've gone through them in order, one at a time, playing them over and over. And now I'm starting to get the same kind of familiarity with them as I have with Beethoven's, Mahler's and Shostakovich's. Most recently it was the 7th, the one I heard on the radio that started the whole thing off. Ironically, it proved the most difficult one to crack so far. There was even a point where I wondered if I had finally found one that I didn't really like, but eventually it clicked (really just a case of slowing my 'mental metabolism' down enough to cope with a slow first AND second movement). I am due to start 'work' on the eighth now, and find myself waiting for the properly receptive moment.
For me, Bruckner's message is so powerfully positive, and I suppose has a spiritual purity akin to Beethoven's. There is struggle but never despair. There is never really any doubt that triumph will come in the end. The failure and hopelessness that are such a strong feature of Mahler and Shostakovich find no place in Bruckner. There is a reviewer for one of the Naxos Bruckner discs who argues that certain conductors are more suited to Bruckner on account of their being Christian or Catholic. On the one hand I take these to be spurious arguments, having no doubt that there are valid secular interpretations to be had. But on the other, that central certainty one finds in Bruckner really does imply a faith that moves mountains, and that cannot realistically be located in the single human spirit. Continuing the comparison with Beethoven, I discern an overwhelming feeling for nature in both, but I would say that Bruckner's is the more human and humane, in that with him one never loses the perspective of man in relation to nature to whom he is equal and within which he is at home, this alongside man in relation to a personal, loving God, arranged in a balanced triangle. Beethoven I feel to be more fundamentally atavistic. The nature we experience through him, particularly in the 'cosmic dances' such as the finales of his 7th and 8th, is a nature in which a deistic god is immanent. It is a godhead which will sweep tiny men from the face of the earth without a thought, whose only gift to men is the capacity to briefly glimpse the essential joy at the heart of his universe, if he is brave enough to grasp for it. Humility was alien to Beethoven the symphonist, while Bruckner's brim with it, and seek to show us the indomitable will that a person of might derive from it. Thus Beethoven and Bruckner might be seen as forming a whole of complementary opposites, each expressing the Masculine and Feminine modalities of Will.
As for Jochum vs. Wand. Well, as is inevitably bound to be the case, I am finding that, movement by movement, I might prefer one to the other, and at times even find myself liking both for different reasons. But my gut feeling right now is that if I had to pick one in a hurry for the desert island it would be the Wand's I would grab for. Though having done so, I know I would have a permanent twinge of regret for having lost the shear annihilating power of Jochum's brass, in the opening movement of the sixth. I have begun ordering the Naxos Tintner's, again having heard so much good of them on the Amazon forum. I await them with bated breath. But meanwhile I have the vast and glorious worlds of the Jochum and Wand versions to explore.
The box arrived couple of days ago. I started with the 9th symphony and then listened them all. The performance of the orchestra and conductor are undoubtedly amazing. The sound quality is great, well remastered, especially considering the fact that the recordings were made between 1974-1981. Very important to me is also the fact that you don't have to adjust the volume constantly. The CDs are well balanced (no shocking therapy: incredibly silent and then incredibly loud) as I already mentioned I appreciate this a lot. If you like Bruckner, definitely recommend you to buy this box, but even if you don't know him as a composer do yourself a favour and get this set, because I think it is reasonably priced and you don't have to buy it directly from amazon, there also other sellers listed.