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Sergiu Celibidache - Portrait


Release Date: 04/28/2009 
Label:  Orfeo D'or Catalog #: 725085   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Franz SchubertMaurice RavelBoris BlacherPeter Ilyich Tchaikovsky,   ... 
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 5 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



SCHUBERT Die Zauberharfe: Overture. 1 Symphony No. 2. 4 RAVEL Ma mère l’oye. 1 Daphnis et Chloé: Suite No. 2. 4 BLACHER Variations on a Theme of Paganini. 1 TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6, Read more class="ARIAL12"> “Pathétique.” 1 HINDEMITH Symphonic Metamorphosis. 3 STRAVINSKY Firebird: Suite (1910). 3 MENDELSSOHN A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture. 4 R. STRAUSS Don Juan. 4 BRAHMS Symphony No. 1. 3 German Requiem 2 Sergiu Celibidache, cond; Agnes Giebel (sop); 1 Hans Hotter (b bar); 2 Cologne West German RSO & Ch 2 ORFEO 725 085, mono (5 CDs: 341:08) Broadcast: Cologne 10/21/1957; 1 10/28/1957; 2 9/29/1958; 3 10/5/1958 4


The sound quality of these discs is, with one exception, excellent for monaural recordings, and some of the pieces sound positively stereophonic. My sound system sends a mono signal through both channels to simulate stereo. I would have it no other way, but it makes discernment between mono and stereo difficult sometimes. Celibidache fans will want these discs because for the most part they cast this musically controversial conductor in a good light. For those not familiar with his conducting style, these discs are a good introduction. I will only occasionally discuss comparative performances in this review because the focus here should be on Celibidache as conductor.


Sergiu Celibidache, who died in 1996 after a long musical career, was born in Romania. He was for a time associated with Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic, but when Furtwängler died, the charismatic Herbert von Karajan was chosen as Furtwängler’s successor, a post that Celibidache sought. Celibidache was somewhat of a mystic. Given to Zen Buddhism, he sought to create during each concert a “transcendent experience,” to use his own words. He eschewed recordings, but he did permit many of his concerts to be recorded. His tempos were sometimes quirky, being too fast in some fast movements or too slow in some slow movements. What we have here are recordings of live performances of four of his concerts given during his brief tenure as conductor of the Cologne RSO. The only audience noise is a very occasional cough.


Celibidache’s approach to Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture, originally written for the melodrama Die Zauberharfe , is to take the introduction very slowly, and then to follow it with a very sprightly tempo. This works very well. In the Second Symphony, the Allegro vivace that follows the introductory Largo is taken at such a frenetic pace that part-writing clarity is greatly sacrificed. The exposition repeat is omitted, as it is in the fourth movement. For this Symphony, so central to Schubert’s developing genius, these omissions are not wise choices. They were not dictated by vinyl disc limitations, given Celibidache’s view of recordings. The second movement Andante variations are admirably performed. Schubert, consciously or not, has adopted the opening of Beethoven’s piano Rondo, op. 51/1, as part of the theme for these variations. Claudio Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe offer all repeats in this symphony, and more significantly offer something that better represents Schubert.


Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye (“Mother Goose”) consists of pieces adapted for orchestra by the composer from his suite for piano four hands. The sound is so good here that it can easily pass for stereo. The performance quality matches that of the sound. The flute and woodwind prominences are excellently played. Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 also has stereo-quality sound and also is an exemplary performance. In both pieces, Celibidache’s ability to bring forth orchestral coloration is remarkable.


Boris Blacher is a composer unfamiliar to me. In the late 1950s, Blacher was considered one of the leading masters of contemporary music. He has since disappeared into obscurity for reasons not fully determinable, and certainly not germane to this review. These are variations on Paganini’s 24th Caprice, the same theme used previously by Brahms and by Rachmaninoff. The theme is introduced by a solo violin, with the orchestra taking off from there. These variations are very inventive. If you get this CD set, you can hear an interesting piece of music off the beaten path, and you can read more about Boris Blacher in the booklet insert.


One of the highpoints in this CD set is Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony. The part-writing clarity is excellent, revealing the composer’s marvelous use of woodwinds. The opening Adagio of the first movement is slow, but it contrasts very well with the excitement of the ensuing Allegro non troppo. The famous theme of the first movement, hackneyed by the masses, is played very slowly. This is a good solution to a transition problem that, in my view, weakens the first movement. The flute and bassoon passage that follows is divine. Celibidache has it right. The development section bursts forth, but with clarity of line. Its mercurial quality of varying moods is handled magnificently by Celibidache and the Cologne RSO through variation of tempos and dynamics. To Celibidache’s credit, there is nothing that is made overly sentimental. The concluding chorale is slow and appropriately stately. The 5/8-meter Allegro con gracia second movement playing is straightforward and without pretension, but unfortunately lacks gracia . The Trio drags because of a tempo a little too slow. The march-like third movement is stirring and crisp and played with great clarity, building up to a strong conclusion. The concluding Adagio lamentoso is certainly one of the most powerfully emotional statements in the symphonic literature. Under Celibidache’s baton, it is emotionally taut and never sentimental, which allow its great musical qualities to be experienced without extraneous emotion. Celibidache is in Zen-control here. The “Pathétique” may be an over-recorded warhorse, but Celibidache has made a contribution worth hearing for its fresh and rewarding qualities.


Paul Hindemith has faded from prominence since the 1950s, when he had so much appeal as a contemporary composer who made sense. He has since been denounced musically as predictable, strictly manipulative (of musical materials), and being a mere craftsman. I think he has been given a bum rap, and Celibidache’s performance of Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber supports my view. The first movement is Mahleresque, but without copying Mahler. The flute that opens the second movement is excellent in its purity, and the concluding jazz fugue is original in its conception. The slow movement that follows and the fourth movement March that concludes the piece are metamorphoses of revelation. This was a good program opener by Celibidache.


The multiplicity of recordings of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, 66 as of this writing, expresses its popularity among lovers of classical music. This is great material for Celibidache to bring forth the orchestral coloration that makes this music so attractive. Everything is crystal clear, especially the percussion, brasses, and woodwinds. Mendelssohn’s deservedly popular A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture is as rewarding an experience under Celibidache’s baton as can be. The dreamy mood, the clarity of part-writing, and the images of Shakespearean fantasy are all there at their best. This is a marvelous performance. Strauss’s tone poem, Don Juan , is another well-represented piece on CD (119 performances, including inevitable duplications). Do we need another? It would be foolish to get these five CDs just for Don Juan , but Celibidache and the Cologne RSO give us one of the best Don Juan s around, with good orchestral clarity and a monaural sound that could again pass for stereo.


Brahms’s First Symphony is yet another warhorse of the concert stage and of the CD tray (166 CD performances, with duplications included). Brahms’s First is a masterpiece for which we always need another CD if it has something new to offer. Celibidache and the Cologne RSO do indeed offer us a new and rewarding experience. The heaviness of the first movement is managed well by a moderate tempo with no dragging and with good orchestral clarity. Celibidache and the Cologne RSO have a way with the second movement that enhances this strikingly beautiful material with its soaring string, oboe solo, and clarinet solo parts. The third movement opens with a slower than usual tempo, but does not drag. The trio, however, is not sprightly enough for my taste. The crowning achievement of these artists is their final movement. Opening with great mystery, the then ensuing pizzicatos are accelerated ominously. The drama that follows is thrilling. Entry of the brass choir is exceptionally stunning against swirling strings. The brass chorale is stately. All this is the result of Celibidache’s way with orchestral coloration. The famous “main theme” is taken at a slower-than-usual tempo. This does not work so well because it fails to contrast as sufficiently as it should with the material leading up to it. It should function as a resolution, but fails to do so adequately. But in the ensuing tutti , Celibidache speeds up significantly to provide needed contrast. Well, maybe it’s all to the good. The return of the “main theme” is again at a slow tempo, and again with a great speed-up that follows. The coda brings everything to a magnificent conclusion. This is a Brahms First to be reckoned with.


Brahms’s German Requiem under Celibidache’s baton is somewhat of a disappointment. Tempos are mostly too slow, and some movements proceed glacially, especially the last movement. Two exceptions are the fourth movement and the fortissimo (starting at bar 76) of the sixth movement, where tempos are reasonable. This is music that suffers naturally from the limitations of monaural sound, although the sound quality on this CD is never unacceptable. To add to my complaint, I never have liked Hans Hotter’s voice. I know I’m in the minority, but he sings slightly off-pitch, which I attribute to his excessive vibrato. He was, however, Klemperer’s choice for bass in his Beethoven Ninth CD, and Karajan’s choice for his late-1940s shellac-disc recording (with the Vienna Philharmonic and soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf) of the Brahms Requiem —my first, and very positive, encounter with the Requiem . Agnes Giebel’s singing in the fifth movement is just excellent, although Celibidache’s tempo drags. For Hotter fans who don’t mind monaural sound, and who also like slower tempos for the Requiem , this remains an inspiring performance.


This five-disc set is worth getting just for the Tchaikovsky “Pathétique” and the Brahms First. With Ravel, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, and Strauss thrown in, it’s a must.


FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
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Works on This Recording

1. Die Zauberharfe, D 644: Overture by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1820; Vienna, Austria 
2. Symphony no 2 in B flat major, D 125 by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1814-1824; Vienna, Austria 
3. Ma mère l'oye by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: France 
Notes: Composition written: France (1908 - 1910). 
4. Daphnis et Chloé Suite no 2 by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913; France 
5. Variations on a Theme of Niccolò Paganini, Op. 26 by Boris Blacher
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; Germany 
6. Symphony no 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique" by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Russia 
7. Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber by Paul Hindemith
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943; USA 
8. Firebird by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Russia 
Notes: Composition written: Russia (1909 - 1910). 
9. Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1876; Austria 
10. German Requiem, Op. 45 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854-1868; Austria 
11. Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, in E major Op. 21 by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1826; Germany 
12. Don Juan, Op. 20 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888-1889; Germany 

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