Notes and Editorial Reviews
Most performances conducted by Sergiu Celibidache (or Celi as he was popularly known) harbour at least one incomparable ‘Celi moment’, and this set includes plenty. In fact, were I to reproduce the reams of notes that I scribbled while listening to these remarkable recordings, I would probably monopolize at least four pages of this month’s issue. The man was undoubtedly a phenomenon: he could galvanize, mesmerize, enrapture and insinuate even the most bizarre interpretative ideas into your consciousness. As a musical magician, he was peerless; but as an exponent of the Classics, he constantly courted controversy. He abandoned the recording studio soon after the war, and it is only thanks to his son and family that the flood of pirate Celi
CDs can at last be challenged by superior authorized alternatives.
Celibidache’s Brahms has been an occasional presence on the ‘unofficial’ LP/CD scene for years, but this particular set is better played and better produced (bar one or two audible edits) than anything that preceded it. Firstly, the recorded balance is excellent. Textures are transparent (the woodwinds especially), instrumental perspectives are unusually true and the incredible force of fully scored passages – such as the organ-like sonority that launches the First Symphony’s sustained opening – is never compromised. The main body of the First Symphony’s opening Allegro is buoyant and light in texture, except for the clarinet/horn duet at 5'17'' (and again at 10'37'' into the recapitulation), where Celi slowly – and somewhat unexpectedly – applies the brakes. The build-up to the development’s great central plateau (from 8'04'') is awe-inspiring, and although the coda is broad, it never drags.
The slow movement is something of a minor miracle. Each time I hear the flowering string lines from 2'01'' (not to mention the oboe/clarinet dialogue that succeeds them) the blood rushes to my head. It is another one of those moments, but there are more in store, notably in the finale, at 2'42'', where slowly interweaving violin desks achieve a perfect diminuendo. Another occurs around the famous horn episode, at 5'08'', where horns answer each other with incredible power (at 5'16'' you actually hear Celi give a prompting shout). The celebrated string melody is leisurely and serene, but the tempo soon picks up and the rest of the movement is pure joy. All in all, this must now be counted among the most imposing Brahms Firsts currently available.
-- Gramophone [5/1999]
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1855-1876; Austria
Date of Recording: 10/21/1976
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