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Bruckner: Symphony No 5 / Celibidache, Munich Philharmonic

Bruckner / Munchner Philharmoniker / Celibidache
Release Date: 06/26/2012 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101639  
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Maestro Sergiu Celibidache (1912–1996) was one of the most uncompromising figures in the music world, demanding three times as much rehearsal time as other conductors and with an ardent dislike of making recordings because he feared they misrepresented his musical intentions. He agreed to set aside his long-held antipathy to recordings of his work to enable the cameras to capture this concert from the Philharmonie in Munich, in which he conducts the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.

Recorded live from the Gasteig, Munich 1985

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Running time: 90 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)

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BRUCKNER Symphony No. 5 Sergiu Celibidache, cond; Munich P ARTHAUS 101 639 (DVD: 90: 00) Live: Munich 1985

Some videos are so satisfying musically that the picture can be a distraction. That is the case here. Not that the images are uninstructive. The video direction is sensible. Celibidache conducts without a score, and his technique is eminently practical. He indicates tempo, flow, and dynamics clearly, although in some passages he stops conducting altogether. Occasionally he shouts. But Celibidache was known for his extensive rehearsals, and clearly the preliminary work for this performance was so intense that the conductor didn’t have to turn cartwheels at the concert. The sound of the orchestra is quite remarkable. Celibidache admired Stokowski, although the Munich Philharmonic here reminds me very much of the sound of the Berlin Philharmonic in its 1942 performance of the work under Furtwängler. Celibidache, however, takes over 15 minutes longer that Furtwängler. This is the slowest Bruckner Fifth I’ve ever heard. Nevertheless, it doesn’t feel slow. The first time I heard it, I thought the tempo dragged a little in the slow movement, but on repeated hearings Celibidache’s timings seemed perfectly reasonable. There is a grand arc to the overall structure of this rendition. Celibidache has gotten inside Bruckner’s skin in a way few conductors have in my experience. This concert simply is unforgettable.

One of the joys of Celibidache’s rendition is the glowing and solid pianissimo s in the strings. The brass choirs are gorgeously full and rounded. The orchestra’s blend is like Renaissance polyphony. Even at his slow tempos, there is drama and excitement. Celibidache mainly gives cues when he wants to bring out a particular voice in the orchestra. His principal flute plays especially expressively. The coda of the first movement seems to take flight. The next movement opens with a deeply evocative, richly German oboe solo. Celibidache maintains tension in the pause before the introduction of the second subject, which comes with a deep well of string sound. The return of the first subject brings in organ-like sonorities. The plucked strings at the movement’s end have an indefinite, Webernesque quality. Great charm prevails in the scherzo, which is truly molto vivace . It’s filled with rustic peasant dances. The B section sounds like a village band, while the C section is playful. The tumult of the last movement takes on a kaleidoscopic quality. Its fugal episode is like the singing of a great choir. The coda suggests gravitas and jubilation at the same time.

The sound engineering is very good, although there is some noticeable print through. The program notes are a lengthy disquisition on Bruckner, Celibidache, and their relation to phenomenology. It seems a lot of babble to me. In addition to the wild and woolly Furtwängler account I mentioned, another fine historic recording is the rugged 1936 Karl Böhm version. Of stereo accounts on CD, I like Eugen Jochum with the Royal Concertgebouw, Roberto Paternostro, and Günter Wand in Cologne. At the end of the Celibidache DVD, there is a moment of silence, then the audience goes nuts. Even if you find Celibidache’s tempos perverse, it is hard to deny the extraordinary musicianship of this performance. For those willing to see things Celibidache’s way, this is Bruckner to warm the heart and touch the soul.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 5 in B flat major, WAB 105 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875-1876; Vienna, Austria 

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