Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 9,
“From the New World
Symphony No. 1,
Sergiu Celibidache, cond; Munich PO
EUROARTS 2066558 (DVD: 114:00) Live: Munich
Rehearsal of Prokofiev
Some great conductors favor slow tempos as they age. The most notable examples are Otto Klemperer, Carlo Maria Giulini, Leonard Bernstein sometimes, and Sergiu Celibidache. When asked if a tempo of his was slow, Klemperer replied, “You will get used to it.” He declared that the only correct tempo was the one at which the composer heard the music in his own head. How Klemperer divined that tempo I don’t know. Still, for each of these four conductors, the inner logic of the music rarely was affected by the length of their performances. Sir Colin Davis, commenting on the slowing of his tempos over time in Sibelius’s symphonies, said that more was happening between the notes. Perhaps this explains something of Celibidache’s evolution into a slow conductor. He once called Herbert von Karajan “an elegant but superficial conductor.” Certainly there is nothing on the present video of Celibidache that could be considered superficial. In the Dvo?ák, in particular, if you can accept Celibidache’s tempos as something other than an imposition on the music, you will be rewarded with much that is beautiful and true. Though slow, Celibidache’s music-making here is neither monolithic nor morose.
Conducting seated in the Dvo?ák, Celibidache displays a very fluid and straightforward baton technique, with no histrionics. His beat is not heavy-handed, which helps explain the wonderfully blended sound he gets from his orchestra. In the first movement, Celibidache omits the exposition repeat, like most conductors of his generation. The Munich Philharmonic plays with a glowing, Central European sound, evidence, perhaps, of the maestro’s admiration for Stokowski. The second subject is introduced with unusual delicacy. In the Largo, the string choirs surrounding the English horn’s solo are beautifully blended. The movement’s B section, at Celibidache’s tempo, resembles the
. In the third movement, the wind choir in the second subject has a wonderful, Bruno Walterish
. The trio, at a slow tempo, sounds like a naive folk chorale. In the finale, Celibidache is not slow at all. It is truly
. The development sounds stately. The lower strings play with unusual cultivation, as they do throughout the work. The solo bassoon is highly distinguished. In the coda, the brass are thrilling. This is a memorable “New World.” It is telling that Celibidache asks his orchestra to stand twice, before he himself turns to face the audience.
I watched the rehearsal of the Prokofiev twice, and each time was thoroughly captivated by it. Celibidache rehearses without a score. Occasionally he asks the orchestra for the rehearsal number they have reached, but once they give it he knows his place. He shows considerable affection toward his players, even joking on occasion. For the most part, Celibidache’s tempos in the “Classical” Symphony are no slower than some other conductors’ I’ve heard. He constantly instructs the orchestra about tempo, articulation, bowing, dynamics, and intonation. He frequently vocalizes the sounds he wants to the orchestra, and offers thumbnail characterizations of the music that would have been the envy of Carlos Kleiber. The tune in the slow movement, for instance, portrays the entrance of a “prima donna,” to be played lightly by the violins—with little bow. When Celibidache rehearses this movement straight through, the effect is magical. The second subject of the Gavotte is the only part of Celibidache’s interpretation that is unusually slow, although he reveals a wealth of detail. He describes the last two notes of this movement as “kisses,” bringing his index finger to his lips to conduct them. Celibidache calls the finale “impertinent.” In it, he rehearses the strings alone to get the lightness he wants. The complete performance that succeeds this rehearsal, in which Celibidache conducts standing and with occasional vocalizations, is sparkling, as fine a rendition of the work as I’ve ever heard.
The sound engineering on the DVD is uniformly excellent monaural, well balanced and wide-ranging. I enjoyed listening to both performances, on two occasions, without watching the screen. The video direction of both compositions is reasonable and revealing. If you are looking for CDs of these pieces, I would recommend Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony (although Celibidache called Toscanini “stupid”) and Rafael Kubelík and the Chicago Symphony for the Dvo?ák, Kurt Masur and the London Philharmonic or Mstislav Rostropovich for the Prokofiev. No doubt Celibidache’s admirers will want this DVD, but I also think it should appeal to anyone pursuing a civilized and strikingly individual inquiry into both compositions. I knew Celibidache was a formidable musician, but I don’t believe I ever understood what made him tick until I saw this DVD. It is a marvelous revelation.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Mono
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 114 mins
No. of DVDs: 1
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