C1754. SERGIU CELIBIDACHE Cond. Danish National S.O.: Symphony #40 in g, K.550; w.Margaretha Hallin, Gurli Plesner, Claes-Hakan Ahnsjö & Ulrik Cold: Requiem in d, K.626 (both Mozart). (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-868, Live Performance, 9-11 Nov., 1972, Copenhagen. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Long before he became a cult figure known for his expressive and remarkably slow performances, Sergiu Celibidache was an extremely effective conductor with more normal interpretive proclivities. Most of the world didn’t know this, however, because Celibidache did not believe in recording. Despite his aversion to the recording studio, in the 1960s he led many performances with Italian radio orchestras that were broadcast and preserved. I discovered them by accident late the same decades while I was operating a classical music radio station in Syracuse. RAI (also RAI, Radiotelevisione Italiana) made their catalogue available at no charge to foreign broadcasters as part of a government mission to promote Italian culture, and I was so fascinated by the conductor’s unusual name that I ordered a Schumann Second Symphony just to find out what it was like.
I was taken with the deep feeling behind the scrappy orchestral playing (and dry, poorly balanced recorded sound), so I ordered virtually everything by Celibidache in the RAI catalogue and programmed a feature on the conductor. After this Italian period in his career he spent much of the 1970s in Scandinavia. The Mozart concert under review is a souvenir of that time.
In 1979 Celibidache got a permanent appointment, taking over the Munich Philharmonic, where he gained considerably more fame, though he still did not permit broadcast recordings to be released. After the conductor’s death in 1996, however, his estate did grant permission. By that date his slow tempos had become famous (or infamous); to my ears they worked in some repertoire (Bruckner in particular) and not in other (PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION doesn’t lend itself to his approach until the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’, by which time it is too late).
Many of the musical values that we know and admire from his late period are present here but without the idiosyncratic tempi. At 22:10 (no repeat in the first movement), Symphony #40 is in line with performances by Bruno Walter, among others (and a good three minutes shorter than Celibidache’s Munich Philharmonic recorded performance). The same is true of the REQUIEM at 57:00. What allowed Celibidache to make his later slow tempos work was his ability to sustain a phrase over a long span and relate the phrase to what followed. His sensitivity to dynamic shadings, finding any number of specific dynamics between pp and ff, and the flexibility of his manipulation of tempo were important components of his interpretive arsenal. All of those qualities are present in this splendid concert, particularly the REQUIEM. Celibidache manages to keep something in reserve so that he builds to a genuine climax in the final ‘Lux aeterna’. (We hear the standard Süssmayr edition used by most conductors at that time.)
Celibidache’s default interpretive profile is one of lyricism and generously sustained phrases. He avoids sharp attacks, instead favoring more rounded phrase-endings and overall tonal warmth. For those who subscribe firmly to today’s HIP movement, these two performances will probably be anathema. But for listeners who enjoy the singing quality of music, this CD will be very satisfying.
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir give their all for Celibidache, and for Mozart). The orchestra plays more than acceptably well for the most part, even if the wind principals are not quite at the soloist level of their best counterparts in major American and European orchestras. The French horns, too, emit more than their fair share of clams, particularly in the third movement of the symphony, and the trombone solo in the ‘Tuba mirum’ is weak. The players listen carefully to one another, a Celibidache trademark, phrasing with consistency together. The chorus sings with a lovely blend and a strong sense of commitment. The vocal soloists are mainly quite good. Swedish soprano Margaretha Hallin and Swedish tenor Clæs-Hakan Ahnsö are very fine and Danish alto Gurli Plesner more than adequate. Only Danish bass Ulrik Cold lets down the standard with unfocused and somewhat unsteady tone.
This disc is obviously not a first choice for either work on the program. However, it is strongly recommended for those who are interested in the development of one of the most important conductors of the second half of the 20th century, and those who would appreciate lovely, deeply felt performances of two Mozart masterpieces. The broadcast sound is clear, well balanced, and beautifully transferred by St. Laurent Studio. As usual with this company, no notes but complete tracking information are included.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE