Notes and Editorial Reviews
SYMPHONY NO. 4
(1881 version, ed. R. Haas)
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Sergiu Celibidache, conductor
Recorded live from the Herkulessaal, Munich, 1983.
- Interview with Sergiu Celibidache about conducting Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Languages (bonus): French, English, German
Running time: 82 mins (concert) + 39 mins (bonus)
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
Symphony No. 4
Sergiu Celibidache, cond; Munich PO
ARTHAUS MUSIK (DVD 79:29) Live: Munich 1983
An exercise in absolute beauty. One of many fascinating things about this DVD and its fine notes is the half-hour interview it contains with Sergiu Celibidache, in which he lays out a philosophy of music deeply influenced by Leibniz. Indeed, the conductor appears almost obsessed with the “unification of monads” in music, the attempt to achieve transcendence through the bringing together of elements. The reason to experience it, he states openly, is not beauty at all—but the achievement of ultimate truth and the freedom it brings. And the reason for his extremely slow tempi? That every single possibility must be united in the music until nothing further can be found in it. Celibidache, in person, proves to be a gentle, charming and (nearly) convincing advocate of what surely represents the essence of religion to him.
But totality and perfection is quite a heavy burden to place on an art form that requires thousands of people to sit in a constrained physical space, their posteriors all too firmly grounded in reality. Despite Celibidache’s insistence that microphones capture only two thirds of what music contains—and hence his opposition to recordings in principle—one could argue that an armchair at home might be a better venue for such expansive contemplation.
The performance here, recorded appealingly in the Herkulessaal, lasts a full evening and is precisely such fodder for thought. This is the most ethereal and floaty Bruckner Fourth I have ever heard. Just the opening tremolo alone reveals so much careful transparency as it so profoundly emerges from silence, that one is nearly made a metaphysical seeker in spite of oneself. The essence of the approach is feather light but deeply extended string arcs, reduced timpani aggression, remarkable tuning, and a deft and rather French approach to brass—all of this held beautifully over an incredibly long span. The horns, critical in this piece, are gorgeous, and for Bruckner, remarkably lacking in coarseness. Indeed the whole symphony is conducted for delicacy, almost as though we were hearing Stravinsky’s
in slow motion. There is none of that typical Brucknerian feeling of being stuck in front of an aggressive public address system. Celibidache is certainly right about one thing: If you slow down Bruckner enough and round every corner as if it were Mozart, the roughness can be taken out of the music. Such a performance is infinitely more beautiful than the usual slow renditions, which tend to be just as coarse and aggressive as the brisk ones. No peasants clump and dance in this performance! And the finale never blares!
Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony fortunately brings no textural conundra to the table, but there is one element worth mentioning in it which varies from performance to performance. The first movement development section climaxes with an impressive chorale. Some conductors, like Barenboim, add timpani here, to fine effect. But one is not surprised to find Celibidache does without them. This reviewer personally recalls a 1978 performance by Celibidache of the Brahms Fourth in London’s Royal Festival Hall. Utterly transparent winds—basses and timpani nearly inaudible!
So, we have here an invitation to an acquired taste. I appear to have acquired it. This is now by far my favorite Bruckner Fourth. The reason is simple: no ugly moments. But whether I have achieved transcendence or not....you’d better ask Leibniz’s ghost!
FANFARE: Steven Kruger
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