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Sergiu Celibidache in Rehearsal and Performance
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Til Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche Op.28 (1894-95)
Rehearsal [32:57]
Performance [15:30]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Sheherazade Op.35 (1888) [49:56]
SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. Stuttgart 1965 (Strauss) and 1982 (Rimsky-Korsakov)
Picture Format NTSC 4:3; Sound Format PCM Stereo; Languages German, English, French, Spanish; Region Code 0 (Worldwide); Disc Format DVD9
EUROARTS DVD 2060368 [104:00]


Admirers will find much to interest them in this DVD for whilst parts of it have appeared before, such as portions of the Till rehearsal – it’s in part two of the Art Of Conducting – the fuller context brings greater rewards. The rehearsal was given in 1965 and was captured in black and white film.

It’s notable for the richness of Celibidache’s verbal pointers. He wears slacks and a jumper. I noted down some of the more enlightening sallies; and they come thick and fast. “Too much bow” is perhaps a conductorial commonplace, though as often as not it’s too little bow that’s the problem not too much. Not for Celi in Strauss. “Vibratissimo” is a vibrant usage and certainly gets the strings working as does his encouraging “very intelligent” to the first violins before adding – a master of psychology - that he’d like them to repeat the passage because they weren’t together. Some of his comments to the string section are the most revealing of his methodology and show one how he liked to build up the string sound. He’s insistent that the bowing of the second violins and violas is tied to the firsts. At one point he steps off the rostrum to discuss technical matters with the orchestra’s leader leading to an outburst of relieved schoolboy chatter in the ranks. Then again how could you resist – but how to put into effect? – his commanding cry of “Remain Epic, gentlemen.”

So whilst remaining epic and displaying the requisite intelligence – for string tone, balance – one needs to be careful over rhythmic matters under Celi’s watchful eye. He’s solicitous though, adding “I don’t want to hustle the horns” whilst admonishing the basses to “work together.” He rightly stops the increasingly flat horn section and comes down hard on “spaghetti” bowing – he can be very funny when he wants to be – and all the while he mentions part of the Til narrative to the orchestra to encourage and sharpen their musico-dramatic sense. I certainly can’t imagine too many of his contemporaries telling their orchestra “metal strings are no good – smells of burning.” He’s clearly after a more burnished sound though he doesn’t need to spell it out. He dances like a dervish too when the rhythm begins to hot up though things get deliriously carried away when after giving an upbeat nothing happens – and conductor and band dissolve into delighted laughter. Though of course he remains in control to the end, admonishing the players not to get sentimental. These camera shots are well filmed, generally from the behind the back desk of the first fiddles. The subsequent concert performance features a little shaky camera work but is otherwise unobtrusive; in black and white again obviously.

The Sheherazade concert footage comes from nearly twenty years later and is in colour. The saturnine dervish has aged into a portly, grey haired seignior. It’s a pleasure to see him smile with pleasure at the climaxes, as it is to see his shimmering left hand encouraging more string tone. The performance is slow though not as slow as it was to become but also full of beautiful curvature and colour. The camera set up is conventional and relatively expert. But the same can’t be said of the sound, which is annoyingly opaque and will dampen your ardour. You can hear it in much better sound on DG 445141-2.

Despite these caveats the longish Strauss rehearsal will merit a place on your shelf. It is an interesting character study – of control, relaxation, terseness and more floridly encouraging praise. Psychologically it’s a rewarding half an hour plus – and the performance shows the translation of those ideas and ideals in fine fashion.

Jonathan Woolf




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