Classical NDR SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA / GUNTER WAND Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture
The Edinburgh Festival's closing concert foot-stampingly confirmed that the almost chronically publicity-shy Gunter Wand - his Beethoven concert from last year still vivid in Edinburgh memory - is no longer caviare to the general but a popular favourite. It was a fitting end to a festival that confirmed festival director Brian McMaster's new solicitude for the musical element, flagging under the previous regime, which now constantly reminds us of the festival's origins as a post-Glyndebourne inspiration.

A 90-minute symphony may seem a sober way to end a festival, but Wand conducted the Hamburg-based NDR Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner's monumental Eighth, so neither majesty nor a sense of occasion was lacking. Last Saturday, in the Usher Hall's near-perfect acoustics, the strings emerged as the orchestra's strongest feature: well-knit and mellow, yet capable of almost Mendelssohnian midsummer-night skittering in the Scherzo. At first there were moments when the horns seemed less than ideally secure; and one or two small fluffs in the brass doubtless made the high-ranking official from Covent Garden in the front row of the grand circle feel quite at home; but under Wand's magisterially understated direction the band summoned up the blazing sound for Bruckner's sedate, processional jubilation.

If the usual metaphor for Bruckner's symphonies is architecture, this performance prompted thoughts of mosaic; not that it was small-scale, but that fragmented themes and styles were lovingly interlocked. The hints of Wagnerian strings-and-horn texture, the brass and drum echoes of the Gotterdammerung funeral march that Bruckner so admired, and the suggestion of a Mahlerian dance of death in the opening Allegro moderato, all were blended into a coherent sound world; and the long, questing last movement which can seem diffuse and sprawling was moulded with a sure sense of overall form. As architecture goes, the sturdy supporting columns are Brahmsian, perhaps ironically in view of Bruckner's idolatry of the master of Bayreuth - but the brass, its initial slips forgiven, mustered up some fine, crunching, colourful sound which would have made the great Hamburger blush chastely. The climax to the last movement was appropriately triumphant: the topping-out ceremony of a vast edifice. It set the right mood to look forward to probably more ceremony and ritual next year when the Edinburgh Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary.

n Wand conducts Bruckner 8 at the Proms: Sat 7.30pm RAH (0171-589 8212) and on R3

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