Chris Larkin, long-serving horn player of the BBC Symphony and doyen of the brass world, has been in regular email contact since the last two BBCSO concerts. He writes as beautifully as he plays, so I asked his permission to reproduce his memories of great Gunter Wand (proffered re Belohlavek's Bruckner 7) here:
'I bought my first LP of Bruckner (9th Symphony) in 1963. I was a budding horn-player in Wigan (besieged by a strong brass-band tradition). In those days, should one wish to purchase a full-price LP at 38s 6d, one was allowed to hear a bit of it in the booth at the record shop. Imagine the impact on a fifteen year old horn-player on hearing the opening of Bruckner's 9th ! I coughed up my hard-earned cash without a thought. The recording was Bruno Walter's and the (as I later found out - hand-picked) Columbia S.O. I have it to this day. Later on I got to play it with Colin Davis, when I was in the BBC Training Orchestra, then Rafael Kubelik with the LSO, but the only conductor to have ever approached Walter's sublimity was Gunter Wand. He had as great an approach (in my very humble opinion).
'He also was a cantankerous old *** ~ but, as he always, always said after our performances (I was Chairman of the Players' Committee at the time and made it a point to thank him after our once-a-year encounters) "Misser Larkin, Misser Larkin ...es ist nur fur die musik, es ist nur fur die musik". Once, when we were on tour in Switzerland, a deputation lined up by Bela Dekany (which included me, John Chimes and David Butt amongst others) peeled off to take lunch with him at his house in Ulmiz. Anita produced a superb spread and Gunter came up with several bottles of excellent Bordeaux ~ however HE drank only neat vodka (whilst complaining all the while that his guts were giving him terrible gyp !!!).
'And all he ever seemed to want was the double or triple dotted rhythms to "line up". When it worked it REALLY worked. There was a Bruckner 8 in the Proms. Mike Davis had only recently joined the orchestra as leader and, coming from the closer friendship that he had had at the LSO with Abbado - they shared a love of football - he couldn't quite work out what to do with Wand. Mike came up to me and said "Do you think we should all stand up for him when he comes on ?" (In those days we were only supposed to stand up for our Principal Conductor, not our Chief Guest). I just said "Mike, if we do that - we will have the greatest performance in years ". We did ~ and the critics said that we were "As good as the Vienna Philharmonic" [Thanks a lot chaps................but still].'
There's more - but he might not thank me for broadcasting it. Thanks for that, anyway, Chris.
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Gunther Wand may have been a bit cantankerous but he was loved both in the UK and in Germany for his superb performances of Bruckner. I saw one of his last concerts when he performed the 8th in Lubeck at the age of about 92. He was frail and had an assistant to help him onto the stage but he conducted the long symphony with his usual insight and coherence. I've always though that he just let the music speak for itself and never forced an interpretation on it. Needless to say he got a standing ovation at the end, and not just because of his age! He deserved it!
Welcome, John - this is a record: a comment on one of my first blog entries, written three and a half years ago. Which shows, I suppose, it has a life - as of course does great Gunter way beyond his mortal span. I too remember the 8th at the Proms as one of the truly great performances of a lifetime.
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