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Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
EMI CDS 5 56837 2 (10 CDs)

The difficulty with writing or talking about Celibidache is trying to persuade a sceptic to listen beyond (to them) Celi's slow tempi. How important are the right words to help bridge the gap between the person disorientated or unconvinced by Celi's music-making and the person who regards Celi's work as life-changing. In all honesty, this set, the last of EMI's Celibidache releases, is not the easiest with which to achieve this objective.

This collection offers concert performances from between 1979 and 1996. Some are wonderful; other renditions are less successful, albeit still interesting and imposing. The Celi devotee will want everything that is officially or unofficially released. Anyone more casually involved with Celi's machinations should, in my opinion, have selected from EMI's first box Beethoven's 4th Symphony, Debussy's La Mer/Iberia, Haydn 92/Mozart 40, Schumann's Rhenish Symphony and Tchaikovsky's 6th (Pathetique), adding the phenomenal Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet issued outside of the box. The second release, all-Bruckner, was a more wholesome proposition: from Symphonies 3-9 only No.8 was questionable. The CD to sample is the remarkable 4th Symphony.

Beethoven and Brahms dominate this final box. Essentially, Celi determined the tempo of any piece or movement by the density of the music itself and the acoustic it was being played in. He wished to fully reveal music's expressiveness, to ensure that each rhythmic unit was properly articulated. The tempo would thus be set by the music itself. In addition, every note was considered for its colour quotient. In this connection, and also regarding dynamics and weight of attack, Celi demanded that his players listen intently to and complement each other. This would help ensure that all orchestral parts would correctly correlate.

I've stated elsewhere - when reviewing DG's set of Celi's Brahms Symphonies - that listening to Celi is exhausting, there being so much to register and absorb (and make notes on!). For this review I'll make fewer specific references to Celi's insights. I'm taking the view that readers have now had the opportunity to select from earlier releases; if not, the EMI recordings I've just nominated would be an ideal place to begin.

From this latest set I should specify first the performances that I believe are indispensable and represent Celi at his greatest. These are Beethoven's 2nd Symphony, Brahms's Requiem and Symphony No.4, and Schumann 2. The Beethoven - from Celi's very last concert in June 1996, two months later he was dead - is a remarkably satisfying account of this Symphony. The pacing for all four movements is ideal. How masterly is Celi's controlled handling of the first movement's long coda (from 10'57") which leads to the bruising brass discords at 11'47". Because they are so cleanly played, they are dissonant in a purely musical sense, without any mechanical exaggeration. The scherzo becomes a minuet in Celi's formal and meticulous handling. The Finale's tempo is perfect for revealing all this movement's construction in a single breath. The music speaks, suspirates, and has a vital inner life.

The Brahms Requiem (1981, coupled with Symphony 1) occupies 88 minutes - the average is around 70 - yet never seems any slower than it needs to be. Indeed, Celi's tempi are not his claim to fame or notoriety. It's what he does within the space he creates with regard to sound, its formation, interaction and dissolution. As in the Te Deum and F minor Mass included in the Bruckner box, the choral singing is exceptional in its phrasal and dynamic unanimity. At the beginning of Brahms's Requiem the organ's sonority is distinct amidst the lower strings: no one balances the orchestra with Celi's exacting care. Felicitous orchestral detail attracts one's ears time and time again - was I really hearing the harp for the first time at 3'52" in the first movement? It seemed so. Comments from the many pages of notes I made while listening include "blissful serenity", "Celi stresses the contemplative and dramatic", "austere grandeur", and "the work of a man [Celi] of great humanity". Of the soloists, the late Arleen Auger is angelic, and not fazed by Celi's 9'37" fifth movement (Klemperer, also EMI and my standard recommendation for Brahms's Requiem, takes 6'51"; overall Klemperer takes 69 minutes). In the final movement, for a few seconds from 14'39", church bells add their not inappropriate colour to Celi's meditation.

Brahms 4 (1985, coupled with Symphonies 2 & 3), a symphony Celi conducted often, is magnificent. This is a noble, richly sung performance, wonderfully controlled, serene, muscular and agitated. "We are hurled to the tragic conclusion with the utmost drama," I wrote regarding the Symphony's closing bars. In this last movement are two edit-patches which appear to have been inserted from a rehearsal (CD2: track 7, 4'03"-4'05" and 4'18"-4'23"). This is presumably to cover intrusive audience noise or an orchestral accident. Whatever, it's a great performance.

Schumann's 2nd from 1994 is also notable. I love Schumann's music. If I had to choose just two pre-twentieth century Austro-German composers, it would be Schumann and Haydn. Both composers give up their secrets slowly, both have the capacity to captivate and surprise over a lifetime's listening.

On balance, No.2 is Schumann's greatest symphony, a work Celi also conducted many times. Again my notebook is crammed with observations. "Overflowing with Romantic imagery", and "it's moments like this when Celi makes other conductors seem unfocussed and thoughtless". The `moment' is the violin cantilena that links the Symphony's slow introduction with the first movement's (typically for Celi, unrepeated) exposition, between 4'03"-4'10" on track 2. In just seven seconds the number of different inflexions, various weights of bow pressure and variety of accents is testimony to Celi's genius. Such moments fascinate the alert, perceptive and patient listener. But if such conductorial observations must primarily illuminate the music itself, listening behind the notes to the preparation is equally fascinating. I thought the Scherzo consummate in its natural activity; the sublime slow movement is exactly that - each is full of Celi's meticulous, miraculous and complementary inflexions. The superb string playing - a glorious sound achieved without automated force - must be mentioned, another Celi hallmark. The final movement is a model of clarity. Celi's tempo has purpose while properly revealing the music's contours. There's an important crescendo, here at 7'11"-7'13", in the long, crowning summation (from 6'03"), which Celi designs to perfection.

There's one moment in the Schumann which I do not care for, the stentorian trumpets in the first movement's slow introduction (2'52"-3'12"). My concern is that the recorded balance exaggerates the effect. This then moves me to consider Celi's antithesis to recording and to us listening at home in a different acoustic to the one actually performed in. Celi believed in communal listening to music-making that could be heard only once. Although he did not prevent his concerts being recorded or broadcast, I imagine he would either scoff or despair at me carrying out a post-mortem on his 1979 Brahms 3 - with its remote and colourless (processed?) sound - and 1987 Beethoven 4. I have listened to both several times and each has eluded me. The Brahms is one of the earliest performances of Celi's Munich tenure and the Philharmonic is obviously in the early, and still developing stage of its 17-year relationship with the Romanian maestro. I certainly prefer Celi's Stuttgart Brahms 3 (DG) and even this is not without its unconvincing parts. This Munich performance seems to have established Celi's remit for beauty of sound but little else. My problem with the Beethoven - for all its elegance and serenity, or perhaps because of it - surprises me inasmuch as I adore the 1995 4th included in EMI's first box.

The recording quality throughout this set is more variable than in EMI's earlier Celi releases, although generally the sound is very good. The finale of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (No.6) has a bright treble that is exacerbated in loud passages. Celi's is a lovely performance of this music, languid and thoughtful, and expresses Beethoven's `happy feelings' more pertinently than many a performance that takes Beethoven's fast metronome markings literally. Whether Beethoven meant what he wrote, or his metronome was faulty, doesn't alter my view that, when played at his suggested speeds, Beethoven's Symphonies usually sound too fast. David Zinman on his admirable Arte Nova recordings at least manages to remain poised and expressive while attempting Beethoven's markings. Coupled to Celi's Pastoral is Beethoven's Leonora No.3 Overture, pregnant with atmosphere and structurally cohesive. For the beginning of the coda, from 13'58", Celi brings the first violins in by accumulation.

I'm very taken with Celi's Beethoven 7 & 8. The latter (1995) reminded me of Knappertsbusch particularly in the unhurried first movement. Celi opens with a commanding timpani thwack and his liberation of the woodwind writing is particularly entrancing. From 0'50" listen to the clarity of the bassoon's counterpoint. I'm sorry that Celi makes a ritenuto at this movement's close. As Ormandy, Monteux and others have delightfully shown, the final couple of bars are so witty when left alone and played in tempo. Otherwise Celi's rhythmic exactitude brings its own rewards. Similarly Celi's 1989 7th. I've no doubt this leisurely traversal will bring forth a chorus of disapproval from people who think No.7 can only be played at maximum speed and fury. Celi's apposite pulse judiciously sustains the slow introduction and provides an ingenuous link with the ensuing Vivace. Celi is, as directed, lively. Beethoven's marking could equally imply character as it could speed. Celi is certainly lively because he reveals Beethoven's rhythmic units both precisely and articulately; nothing is dulled. The movements that follow are duly considered for their lyrical and rhythmic requirements. The Scherzo's Trio is very slow but at least it sounds like the hymn it's supposed to be. I think this is a fabulous performance but I might be the only person!

Neither the Eroica (No.3) nor Choral (No.9) quite convinces. There are, of course, wonderful moments but they do not add up. I've written "translucent" in my Eroica notes. I think that's the problem: there needs to be something texturally weightier, the expression should be more burdened. The Choral's problem is the last movement, which does not hang together, nor do the closing bars have that burst of adrenaline needed to reach the finishing post in celebration. Again, it's not to do with speed; it's a lack of the right temperament. However I would not want to be without Celi's 9th for either his written note on the Scherzo and Trio's tempo relationship or hearing his view of this in performance. I can imagine some people finding the first movement not as apocalyptic as they would wish - not me, I thought Celi's tempo and structural focus exemplary - and the slow movement is beautifully played, although the alternating tempi are not as contrasted as they might be.

Brahms 1 (1987) is powerful and spacious but falls a little short of the ecstasy Celi found in Stuttgart (DG). He does though, once again, put most other conductors to shame, not Eduard van Beinum or Boult though, by being able to play the Symphony's triumphant coda (from 18'15") in one pulse. This means the motto (18'38"-18'51") is not bombastic or vulgar (and also without the crass timpani that Toscanini and Ormandy add at this point). Brahms 2 (1991) is again spacious but without neglecting flow, direction or resolution; it is perhaps rather rotund at times. In Brahms's St Anthony Variations (1980), Celi vividly characterises each section through expressive freedom, rhythmic clarity and instrumental colour.

I shall always be grateful to Celi for making me conscious of music's infinitude and look forward to more musical illumination from DG's continuing releases.


Colin Anderson

CD Number (Prefix CDC) - Repertoire - Rating


5 56838 2 Beethoven 2 ***** Beethoven 4 ***

5 56839 2 Beethoven 3 ***(*)

5 56840 2 Beethoven 6 **** Leonora No.3 ****

5 56841 2 Beethoven 7 ***** Beethoven 8 ****

5 56842 2 Beethoven 9 ***(*)

5 56843 2 (2 CDs) Brahms Requiem ***** Brahms 1 ****

5 56846 2 (2 CDs) Brahms 2 **** Brahms 3 *** Brahms 4 *****

5 56849 2 Schumann 2 ***** Brahms St Anthony ****

Beethoven 9: Helen Donath (soprano), Doris Soffel (contralto), Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor), Peter Lika (bass), Munich Philharmonic Choir

Brahms Requiem: Arleen Auger (soprano), Franz Gerihsen (baritone), Munich Philharmonic Choir, Munich Bach Choir


Colin Anderson

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