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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony no. 40 in G minor K.550 [24:11]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony no. 92 in G major Hob.1:92 “Oxford” [29:50]
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. 15 March 1994 (Mozart), 28 February 1993 (Haydn), Philharmonie am Gasteig, Munich
Authorized CDR reproduction of original EMI disc. Includes complete booklet.
EMI CLASSICS CDC 7243 5 56519 2 1 [60:13]


My experience of Celibidache in this repertoire has so far been concentrated on his Italian period: just one Haydn symphony, no. 102  (Naples 1958), and slightly more Mozart: Symphonies 36 (Naples 1959), 39 (Turin 1969), and 41 (Milan 1960), the Haffner Serenade (Naples 1968), Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Naples 1959), the C minor Mass (Rome 1960) and the Requiem (Turin 1968). Even then he was beginning to spread himself metaphysically in the big choral works but in the orchestral pieces he just concentrated on getting brilliant, straightforward performances at “normal”  tempi.

Even in 1994 his performance of the Mozart G minor could still be described as at the slow end of “normal”. But, while several conductors who have avoided a too obviously driving energy in the first movement – such as Böhm or even Klemperer – have ended up sounding heavy or at least staid, Celibidache manages not to. The lower instruments have been lightened and the texture purified. Furthermore, Celibidache is able to obtain the sort of individual shaping of phrases in fast passage work which we normally think of as possible only with soloists. Unanimity of pointing at that level is just beyond most orchestras and conductors. There is also, in this first movement – but I think not elsewhere – the sort of slight adjustment to tempi which is more generally associated with pianists, who have only themselves to keep together with. Like Bruno Walter, Celibidache makes a tiny pause before the second subject.

A first movement based on elegance and refinement of phrasing may not sound very exciting, and one may prefer the surging drama of Furtwängler or the fresh vigour of the young Colin Davis’s first recording. But if the music is not dramatic in Celibidache’s hands, it has great poignancy and I think this performance is important since it shows – for the first time in my experience – that this approach can actually work.

The Andante is again slowish but without heaviness. More than most conductors, Celibidache avoids slogging away with six crashing accents in every bar. There is an affecting timelessness to this account.

The Minuet has a sort of proud stoicism and the extraordinary articulation of the strings in the finale actually makes it seem rather fast, whatever the stopwatch may say. There is, though, plenty of space for a poignantly expressive second subject.

Though set down in the era of Harnoncourt, Norrington and the original instruments brigade, this is a performance which has to be compared, if at all, with the giants of earlier times, particularly Furtwängler and Walter. It will not be found wanting in this company and it has a moving character all of its own.

The Haydn is more problematic. Celibidache certainly makes Haydn sound a big composer, and there can be nothing wrong with that. He does not lighten the lower instruments as he did in Mozart, concentrating on grandeur and a full sound. But he is very slow. The sheer distance between the three staccato chords which open the symphony rather takes the breath away. The extreme slowness of the following sustained passage certainly highlights the dissonance of some of the writing. The “Allegro spiritoso” has energy as well as breadth, but somehow its stately progress seems a little uneventful.

The “Adagio” is just about as slow as can possibly be imagined. The extreme refinement of the phrasing holds the ear in the outer sections by its sheer beauty, but the central section fails to sound interesting at this tempo. Something similar happens in the Minuet, which manages to maintain a certain Ländler-like lilt in spite of the grandeur, while in the Trio the music is becalmed, the phrases sitting side by side without continuity. In general, the extreme length of the pauses Haydn inserts at various places in this Symphony – all rigorously given their full value by Celibidache – may be taken as evidence that he envisaged faster tempi. When they are as long as here, instead of keeping you guessing, the music goes dead.

The Finale is another matter. There’s a delightful bucolic lilt at the beginning. Haydn’s “Presto” encourages at least an Allegro from Celibidache and there’s a fiery spirit to the proceedings. All the same, it’s a bit late in the day. Perhaps Celibidache’s best Haydn is to be sought from earlier in his career.

It’s difficult to know what sort of overall recommendation to give. The Celibidache phenomenon was really a world all of its own. Those fascinated by it will want everything they can get, regardless of what I or anyone else may say. Others will be suspicious of modern myths and decide to give it a miss. The latter group will miss, in this case, an unusual but revelatory recording of Mozart 40.

The sound is fine and the booklet substantial. It adopts, though, a somewhat myth-creating stance which some will not like.

Christopher Howell 




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