C1846. SERGIU CELIBIDACHE Cond. Münchner Phil.: Symphony #1 in c (Brahms); Forza - Overture (Verdi); Don Juan (Strauss) - Live Performance, 14 Feb., 1990, Bucharest, Romania; SERGIU CELIBIDACHE Cond. Svizzera Italiana S.O.: L'Oiseau de Feu - Suite (Stravinsky); w. ALEXIS WEISSENBERG: Piano Concerto #3 in C (Prokofiev) - Live Performance, 29 Sept., 1966, Lugano. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-1141. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Alexis Weissenberg, a charismatic Bulgarian-born pianist known for his thundering aggressiveness and rational detachment at the keyboard, and for his unapologetic defense of those traits in interviews, appeared as a soloist with the world’s leading orchestras, played recitals on celebrated stages and made many recordings. A naturalized French citizen, he was a Romantic specialist, most closely associated with Schumann, Chopin and perhaps especially Rachmaninoff, whose percussive pyrotechnics suited him.
Mr. Weissenberg’s cool yet blazing approach divided reviewers. Where some heard impeccable technique, others heard soulless efficiency. Where some embraced the drama of his interpretations, others condemned them for aggressiveness. On these points, however, nearly everyone agreed: Mr. Weissenberg possessed a technical prowess rivaled by few other pianists. The ice of his demeanor at the keyboard (he sat, leaned forward and got down to business, playing with scarcely a smile or grimace) was matched by the fire that came off the keys. He could play very fast, and very loud. (Over time, verbs used to characterize his pianism included ‘barrel’, ‘tear’, ‘thunder’ and ‘let loose’).
Reviewing a 1982 Carnegie Hall recital by Mr. Weissenberg, in THE NEW YORK TIMES Bernard Holland called his rendition of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy ‘chillingly scientific’. He added: ‘It was anatomy instruction conducted by a master — a brilliant dissection of cold, gray, gleaming flesh, from which every trace of living blood had been conscientiously squeezed away’.
To his critics, Mr. Weissenberg had no shortage of articulate rejoinders. In a 1983 interview with THE GLOBE AND MAIL OF CANADA, he had this to say about his unemotional stage demeanor: ‘You cannot lose your control physically and be precise as to what your hands do. Can you imagine a surgeon operating on somebody, and swooning and looking up at the ceiling and being very excited about it? The patient would die. That is what happens in music too. The patient dies, because there’s too much going on besides the actual performance’.
In any case, as reviews over many years made clear, Mr. Weissenberg did sometimes give performances, or make recordings, that were simply, electrically, unequivocally breathtaking.
Alexis Sigismond Weissenberg was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 26 July, 1929 An only child, he was reared by his mother, a pianist from whom he took his first lessons.
In 1941, after Bulgaria allied itself with the Axis Powers, Sigi and his mother, who were Jewish, attempted to cross into Turkey using false papers. As Mr. Weissenberg recounted in an autobiographical essay on his Web site, alexisweissenberg.com, they were detained for several months at a concentration camp on the border. With the aid of a sympathetic German officer, who loved the Schubert that Sigi played on an accordion he had managed to bring with him, they were able to escape. Mother and son made their way to Istanbul and eventually to Palestine. There Sigi, already a fine pianist, performed with the Palestine Symphony and other orchestras.
After the war, the young Mr. Weissenberg moved alone to New York, where he studied at the Juilliard School with the pianist Olga Samaroff and the composer Vincent Persichetti. In 1947, at 18, he won the Leventritt Award, a prestigious international music prize. He made his New York début the next year at Carnegie Hall, playing Chopin’s e minor Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under George Szell.
In the mid-1950s, Mr. Weissenberg moved to France. By then, critical opinion had begun to dog him, and engagements on major stages were drying up. He took a long sabbatical from public performance, spending a decade teaching and studying. ‘As a young artist I learned new works very fast and played them much too soon’, he told NEWSWEEK in 1977. ‘In 10 years I would have reached a point where my whole repertory would have been overplayed and understudied. I did not want to end up at the age of 50 still a ‘promising’ pianist’. He re-emerged in the mid-1960s, and by the 1970s was again performing widely.
That Mr. Weissenberg’s artistry was not to every taste was a subject about which he could eventually wax coolly philosophical. ‘I still don’t know why my playing is considered so disturbing’, he told THE TIMES in 1983. ‘I remember in school, as a child, I learned that the flame of a candle is composed of a yellow light, which actually burns, and a blue light within it, which is ice cold. That is true of human beings as well. Perhaps it is the sight of that blue light in me that frightens certain people’.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Jan., 2012
“Romanian-born conductor Sergiu Celibidache, a cult figure today (in part, because of his intense dislike for recordings), was a virtual unknown in 1945 when he first appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. (Up until that point, the only major orchestra he had conducted, albeit with great success, was the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.) Wilhelm Furtwängler, the ‘logical’ choice for the position (if not necessarily the best), still was considered to be not sufficiently distanced from the Nazi party, and conductor Leo Borchard, who had stepped into the breach in Furtwängler's absence, had been shot accidentally by an American sentry. All other candidates (Herbert von Karajan must have been one of them) were unavailable or politically unacceptable. On December 1, 1945, Celibidache took the helm. His duties in war-depleted Berlin went beyond rehearsing and performing: he also had to perform administrative tasks for the orchestra, including scheduling and obtaining orchestral parts not available in the Philharmonic's archives.
Because the Philharmonic's usual venues had been damaged or destroyed in the war, the broadcast material preserved here was recorded in Berlin's large radio studios. It has been made available for this Music & Arts release by the Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA) in Frankfurt and Berlin. The earliest performance is a Dvorák Cello Concerto (with soloist Tibor de Machula) from November 1945, and the latest is a Debussy LA MER from March 1948. (Actually, this set ends with Busoni's BERCEUSE ÉLÉGIAQUE from July 1945, but with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, not the Philharmonic.)
The features that made Celibidache's conducting so individual are to be found throughout these four CDs, albeit not always in their most advanced form. Orchestral balance, dynamic shadings, contrast, and tempo relationships already are among the conductor's preoccupations. The repertoire is not unusual for him, and collectors who know his live Stuttgart and Swedish recordings (from Deutsche Grammophon) and his Munich recordings (from EMI) will not, for the most part, be surprised by what they hear in this collection.
One of my favorites here is the Brahms Fourth, from 11/21/45. The Philharmonic must have been both reassured - in this unsettled period - by the repertoire's familiarity and excited by the conductor's ideas about it. The performance, while tragic, is not fatalistic. In the final movement, an authentic ‘Celibidache moment’ occurs when the conductor drops the music's motion - but not its tension - to almost nothing. Phrasing, like the drawing in and releasing of breaths, also makes this performance memorable, as does a processionally solemn reading of the second movement.
Prokofieff's ‘Classical Symphony’ (7/6/46) gets a wonderful thinking-through from Celibidache, who infuses it with courtly mockery, but not with slapstick or unkindness. Seven movements from the same composer's ROMÉO AND JULIET ballet also show Celibidache's tenderness and his gift for characterization.
An 11/10/46 performance of Britten's war-related SINFONIA DA REQUIEM produces an understandably moving response from the Philharmonic. At the same time, one ponders how the German orchestra - and listeners - reacted to so specific a work by an English composer. No doubt the power of the performance and the music itself convinced them to be won over.
Other performances worth making special mention of are a tremendously nuanced LA MER (and the second of the same composer's Nocturnes), a Haydn 94 that brims with classical weight and bubbling humor, a rough and roistering TILL EULENSPIEGEL, and a reading of the Leonore Overture #3 in which Celibidache uses a long accelerando to reach the allegro of the work's main section. The effect is thrilling, and not at all contrived.”
- Ray Tuttle, Classical.Net