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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No.5 in B flat major op.100 (1944) [42:35]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Tod und Verklärung op.24 (1889) [27:55]
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. 1970, Turin, live.
OPUS ARTE OA0979D [77:00]

Opus Arte limit themselves, as elsewhere in this series, to stating that these are “RAI 1970 Turin Recordings”. They were in fact recorded at the same concert, on 30 April 1970. I think the Prokofiev must actually have been the last item since the public start unceremoniously putting on their coats as soon as the music is over. The concert began with Cherubini’s “Water Carrier” Overture, presumably not televised.
Since the 1969 Bruckner 9 I recently reviewed, the television team has advanced considerably in expertise. Attention is still concentrated on the conductor, but when they home onto an orchestral player or section, they actually choose one that is doing something important. There are even a few imaginative touches, such as a close-up of Celibidache superimposed on a full-screen image of the tam-tam. As often happens with restored black-and-white films, the contrasts seem to have been scrubbed excessively clean, while the image itself, though firm, lacks detail. I found this rather tiring on the eyes. The sound is fair but congested and it is a pity that the stereo tape from RAI sound archive could not have been substituted.
A recent commentator (not on MusicWeb) remarked, apropos a DVD of Boult, that to modern eyes the conductor seemed almost comically detached from the proceedings. He should enjoy the second movement of the Prokofiev. Celibidache sets aside here his usual manner of beating time simply and clearly – as he did in the first movement. His face clouds with anger as the movement starts. Thereafter he acts out the music with grimaces and puppet-like gestures, sometimes passing the baton to his left hand to free his right arm for elegant pirouettes. He even allows an occasional ghoulish grin to crease his Dracula-like countenance. The trouble is, Boult, by whatever means, usually fired up the orchestra. This time it is the Turin band which appears almost comically detached from the proceedings, just blandly getting on with the job.
In fact, this is, from the beginning, a relatively low-key performance by Celibidache’s standards, with the sort of ropy horns at the beginning which the orchestra usually reserved for lesser podium luminaries. Better is the third movement where Celidibache is in his element drawing the long, cool lines. He is visibly dissatisfied with the balance near the beginning of it, urgently gesturing certain players to give more, damping down others. Rather fascinating to watch. The finale gets up a fair head of steam. I must say that as I write I am playing my off-the-air tape of the performance, where the stereo recording gives it considerably greater impact. Celibidache students might like to know that his tempi are not at all eccentric here: at 11:38, 8:39, 13:00, 09:18 there are no remarkable differences compared with a “normal” reading such as that given by Paul Kletzki in Rome in 1961, with timings of 11:47, 08:02, 11:55, 09:28.
The Strauss is a totally different experience. This is absolutely enthralling performance. The opening is pure magic, the faster sections have galvanic force. The final section is long-drawn, distilling all the spiritual intensity for which Celibidache was famous. No posturing on the podium this time, either, just straightforward, very eloquent time-beating and a left hand that seems able to draw every desired nuance from the orchestra. Noticeably, this performance draws an ovation while applause for the Prokofiev is no more than polite. Most Turiners preferred to stay away – the hall is no more than half-full – but those that went evidently knew the difference between a great performance and a fairly good one.
This one, by the way, is more of a Celibidache special – his 27:55 is more than four minutes longer than Ormandy’s “normal” timing of 23:44.
Christopher Howell


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