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Brahms: Symphonies no 2 & 3 / Celibidache, SWR Stuttgart

Release Date: 07/28/2009 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 459637  
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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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 Read more 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 is never compromised...

Celi frequently alters Brahms's written dynamics (invariably more to clarify than to pressurize) and yet his ability to follow the passage of a single instrumental line helps illuminate aspects of musical argument that others fail to notice. For example, near the beginning of the Second Symphony, where the strings take the lead, the horns remain much in evidence. Musical punctuation is another consideration. Celi marks a small (unauthorized) comma before the big staccato string figure at 307", while the brass's warm delivery at 548" smooths the contours of Brahms's most exposed (and in my view ugliest) symphonic brass writing. There is remarkable intensity to the cello line later on in the movement (especially in duet with the horn at 12'17") and a gentle staccato to the woodwind line for the coda. The slow movement builds to an epic climax at 847" where full winds and brass declaim above a slow-moving tide of first-violin semiquavers (another of those unforgettable moments), and the finale's accelerating coda is immensely exciting. Indeed, the whole score enjoys an unusually cogent interpretation.

By contrast, parts of the Third Symphony sound decidedly odd. Immediately after the opening brass chords, Celibidache divides the principal string melody into a spurious 'question and answer', alternating Brahms's prescribed forte passionato with an unmarked mezzo-forte. Then, at 0'42", he dips the level yet again. 'Fussy', I thought, and the drop in tempo for the grazioso second subject confirms that impression. And yet there are some wonderful moments later on: the quieter episodes in the central development, the fire of the string playing in the recapitulation and the delicate balance of forces elsewhere. The Third's principal 'Celi moment' happens at 7'46" into the second movement, at the point where the strings draw a broad expressive arch, played here with the greatest intensity and mesmerizing control...

Remarkable, inspiring, exasperating — Celibidache was all of these, and more. And if the overall approach was sometimes excessively interventionist, you learn so much from listening that eccentricities soon cease to register. These discs enshrine the work of a man who obviously loved every note of Brahms's symphonies (although he omits all three first-movement repeats) and was not afraid to express that love in interpretative terms. The only relevant comparison is EMI's forthcoming rival Brahms symphony cycle, where Celi conducts the Munich Philharmonic (probably using even broader tempos), and when it finally appears, I will no doubt wax lyrical all over again. So be warned!

-- Gramophone [5/1999]
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 73 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/11/1975 
Symphony no 3 in F major, Op. 90 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883; Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/19/1976 

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