A great performance of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony should be a spiritual experience as much as a musical experience. It should ignite the musicians and incinerate the audience. It should blaze with a prophecy of eternal damnation and burn with a vision of infinite redemption. It should devastate, consume, and annihilate, then, in the final bars, it should bless, console, and transfigure.
Needless to say, there aren't that many great performances of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. Günter Wand, the distinguished Bruckner specialist who died in 2002 at the age of 90, has four great recordings of the work in the catalog -- a 1979 Ninth with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, a 1988 Ninth with the Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, a 1993 Ninth also with the Norddeutschen Rundfunks, and finally, a 1998 Ninth with the Berlin Philharmonic. But while Wand's 1998 recording may ultimately prove to be the greatest Ninth of all, this recording of a radio broadcast performance with Wand leading the Radio-sinfonieorchester Stuttgart from the Benedictine Basilica of Ottobeuren from June 24, 1979, is also a very great Ninth.
Wand's performances were always as much spiritual as they were musical, illuminating the score in searing waves of luminous sound, but they did grow ever more massive as the years rolled by. This recording, made when Wand was a sprightly 67, is more driven but no less intense, more vigorous but no less profound, more terrifying and perhaps only a little less transfiguring than the 1998 Berlin. According to reports, the effect of the performance on the audience of 3,500 was overwhelming: not only were they silent throughout the performance, they remained silent for ten minutes after it ended and only the ringing of the Basilica's bells roused them. Profil's remastering of the Südwestrundfunk's recording is direct and honest.