C1839. SERGIU CELIBIDACHE Cond. Danish National S.O.: Johann Strauss Waltzes, Marches & Polkas; Boléro (Ravel); Capriccio Italien (Tschaikowsky); Maskarade - Overture (Nielsen); Rehearsals & Interview. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-1082, Live Performance, 12 & 13 Dec., 1970, Copenhagen. [Once in a very rare while my day is transformed by a truly magical concert, and this one is among the very best; the audience's responses make me realize I'm not deluded! Every piece is uniquely transformed! - J. R. Peters] Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Somehow the juxtaposition of a holiday pops concert and the name Sergiu Celibidache is not likely to come together automatically in one’s mind. But this was indeed a holiday pops broadcast for Danish Radio in 1970. At the time Celibidache was a major figure in Scandinavia, serving as music director of the Swedish Radio Orchestra from 1962 to 1971.
The famously slow tempi adopted by Celibidache came a bit later in his career. In the late 1960s and early 70s his tempi were only slightly slower than the norm. The other characteristic that distinguished his conducting were all present from the beginning: an ability to sustain tension through very long phrases, an incredible attention to dynamic shading, orchestral color, and balance, and most of all, an intense concentration on every phrase. It is hard to imagine a conductor lavishing more attention on a chestnut like ‘Capriccio Italien’ than Celibidache does here. He makes his musicians think about every dimension of performance: what they are playing, how they are playing it, and how their part fits with what other musicians are playing. This is an orchestra in a conversation with itself. But don’t think that a Celibidache performance is fussy. The final pages of ‘Capriccio Italien’ are a triumphant riot of color, and the Danish radio studio audience erupts with an ovation.
All the familiar Johann Strauss II pieces are given performances that have been thought about in a way that few conductors ever do. In particular, the ‘Fledermaus Overture’ is remarkable. At 10:00 the total timing is much slower than just about every other performance I know (8:30 is the norm), but Celibidache does not drag in the slightest. There is an affection for the score and a firmness in shaping it that prohibit the music from dragging. The same holds true for all the other Strauss bonbons.
Celibidache’s ‘Boléro’ is only slightly slow at 16:00 (later, in Munich, he would take 20 minutes to make his way through it), and again his remarkable ability to bring sounds together into some kind of unity makes this performance singularly seductive, despite some dicey bassoon playing at one point. As more and more instruments join in, the conductor’s ability to blend them in just the right proportion stands out.
As an encore, Celibidache treats the Copenhagen audience to the ‘Maskerade Overture’, one of the most popular pieces by Denmark’s Carl Nielsen, performed at a relatively normal tempo, with abundant exuberance and the same lavish attention to phrasing and color found in the whole program. The 4:35 minutes of bonus material opens a small window into Celibidache’s rehearsal approach. A brief interview is of less interest.
Overall, this disc is a pleasure for any music lover who enjoys the lighter side of the orchestral repertoire. As usual with St. Laurent Studio, there are no notes. The transfer of what was a good quality stereo broadcast is excellent.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“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.
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....
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.
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 players listen carefully to one another, a Celibidache trademark....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....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 [reduced review from another glorious Celibidache issue]