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Bruckner: Symphony No 7 / Celibidache, Berlin Philharmonic

Bruckner / Berliner Philharmoniker / Celibidache
Release Date: 06/26/2012 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2011408  
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Also available on Blu-ray

In 1992, the revered conductor Sergiu Cellibidache returned to conduct the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time in thirty-eight years. This stupendous event was to be his final concert with the famous orchestra, and it is the only video recording in existence of Celibidache conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker. Bruckner’s majestic Symphony No. 7 is given an expansive, triumphant performance that fi lls the Schauspielhaus with rich, ripe and burnished sound. To maximise the artistic impact of this momentous occasion, the video assets have been restored and upscaled from 4:3 to 16:9. Recorded live in the Schauspielhaus, Berlin, 31
Read more March and 1 April 1992, directed by Rodney Greenberg. Includes the 54 mins. Documentary ‘The Triumphant Return’ directed by Wolfgang Becker. The film documents the maestro Celibidache’s reunion with the Berliner Philharmoniker after 38 years, and includes extensive footage from the rehearsals of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and interviews with former orchestra members.

Recorded live at the Schauspielhaus, Berlin, 31 March and 1 April 1992

with documentary The Triumphant Return, directed by Wolfgang Becker. The film documents the maestro Celibidache’s reunion with the Berliner Philharmoniker after 38 years, and includes extensive footage from the rehearsals of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and interviews with former orchestra members.

Picture format: NTSC 16:9 (Concert) / 4:3 (Documentary)
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Audio Language (Documentary): German
Subtitles (Documentary): English, Japanese
Running time: 90 mins (concert) + 54 mins (documentary)
No. of DVDs: 1

R E V I E W:

BRUCKNER Symphony No. 7 & Sergiu Celibidache, cond; Berlin PO EUROARTS 2011408 (DVD: 95:03+55:00) Live: Berlin 4/1/1992

& Documentary: “The Triumphant Return” (54:23)

One could reasonably assume from the header information that the main interest on this DVD lies in a performance of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (in Berlin’s Schauspielhaus), followed by a documentary of some sort of lesser importance. In fact, the 95-minute performance, good as it is, takes second place to the 55-minute documentary directed by Wolfgang Becker. It is the latter that puts this DVD almost in a class by itself, for not only are we afforded a magnificent portrait of this legendary conductor, but Becker has captured on film a rehearsal sequence that goes to the very heart of the eternal question, “What does a conductor really do?” We see, in exquisite detail, how Celibidache works on the seventh symphony’s opening tremolo until he gets exactly what he wants. Even the famed Berlin Philharmonic, which has of course played the piece countless times, does not “get it” at first. But we see and hear results forming before our very eyes and ears, and it’s a fascinating process. This is obviously not a conductor content to just run through a score. “Celi” has ideas, and whether you subscribe to them or not, he forces them into your consciousness with the conviction of a religious zealot, in the process making the music come alive in ways it may never have before. I strongly suggest you first watch the documentary and only then the complete, live performance of the symphony. By the time the performance comes, there is no need for podium antics or elaborate choreographies; all the work has been done in rehearsal

“He oozed vitality,” one member of the orchestra observes. We see Celibidache, who died in 1996, in his roles as father figure, teacher philosopher, guide, benevolent priest, and sadistic drill master. Sadistic drill master? Yes. It’s frightening, but he’s really only bluffing. The mean visage sprouts a broad smile, and all is well again. The man has a sense of humor: “Violas!!!,” he screams three times in the effort to draw more sound from them. When he is finally satisfied, he quips, “It’s high time we got something out of you!” In rehearsal, when something is not to his liking, he often puts on a face like a bashful child who’s just been scolded, or like someone who has just smelled something rotten.

Celibidache proved to be a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. When the war ended in 1945, the Berlin Philharmonic was without a conductor of any real international stature. A violinist in the orchestra suggested they let his friend Sergiu Celibidache, at the time still a student at the Berlin Academy of Music, have a go at it. It worked, and magnificently. It was his first orchestra, and he remained with it as principal conductor from 1946 to 1952. He led them in 414 concerts, the last in November 1954. Following acrimonious relations caused by a desire for total control (including the dismissal of numerous older players he deemed unsatisfactory), Celibidache vowed never to return, and for 38 years he kept his word. In 1992, he was persuaded to change his mind for a charity concert for Romanian orphans. The results are on this film. There is virtually no resemblance between the trim, handsome young man with a great shock of black hair (almost a young Zubin Mehta stand-in) and the stiff, elderly, paunchy, white-haired maestro we see rehearsing Bruckner in 1992.

Black and white footage from the 1940s and ’50s is intermixed with modern color sequences of rehearsal excerpts, Celibidache philosophizing (“The end [of a piece of music] is the inevitable consequence of the beginning”) and numerous interviews with orchestra members, some of whom had been there when Celibidache first took over in 1945. The dialogue is entirely in German, but there are subtitles in English and Japanese. Pacing and editing are first-rate. If only all music documentaries could be like this one.

When we turn to the performance itself, we find what may be the most expansive and spacious Bruckner Seventh ever presented (see abruckner.com/discography/symphonyno7inemajo). While most conductors bring the symphony in somewhere between 65 and 70 minutes, Celibidache takes 88. Long in minutes it may be, but not slow in motion. Celibidache never loses the momentum, no matter how slowly the metronome may tick. In short, this is as totally compelling and persuasive an interpretation as you will find at any tempo. Everything positively glows with sincerity and conviction. The sound is always warm, beautiful and without hard edges to the articulation. Phrases grow naturally, inevitably, inexorably to their peaks. The entire orchestra thinks, feels, breathes, and plays as a single living musical organism. The brass, especially in the second movement, are superbly balanced, totally unified in sound. The climactic moment of the third movement brings images of the gates of heaven opening. At the end of the fourth, there are 10 blessed seconds of silence following the last chord. Now that’s something else you don’t hear often.

FANFARE: Robert Markow
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 7 in E major, WAB 107 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Sergiu Celibidache
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1881-1883; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1992 

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