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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique

Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Sergiu Celibidache
Filmed in Turin, 1969. All formats. Picture format 4:3. Black and white. LPCM Mono sound
OPUS ARTE OA0977D [58:00]



It’s good to have the recording-reticent Celibidache on film, but couldn’t we have had the rehearsal? In performance he is far less impressive, his negative style of conducting, always exhorting players to play quieter in his quest for perfect balance and ideal acoustic, his left arm stiff, his long index finger always pointing at someone. His face has two expressions, the one frowning and pain-etched, making him for all the world look like a Red Indian who’s lost yet another battle with John Wayne, while the other carries a smug smile of satisfaction as he occasionally achieves a nuance here or a detail there.
 
The television direction is appalling; how any director could omit any sort of shot of the E flat clarinet playing the Witches’ Sabbath finale of the Sinfonie fantastique is totally incomprehensible; not even the piccolo gets a look-in. In the slow movement Scène aux champs the cor anglais player is overshot, it’s just not that interesting, but with no hint of where the echo oboist might be and no shot of Celibidache here. There’s nothing else for it, it has to be this rather po-faced (occupational hazard) gentleman. Celibidache’s tempi might raise some eyebrows, the Marche au supplice (March to the Scaffold) is a slow one, whilst the Bacchanale only lets rip coming down the final furlong. It’s all performed in a Blake’s 7 style hall with the conductor on a stepped podium on which he seems to be trapped - no opportunity to join in the waltz with the two lady harpists in Le Bal. The players of 1969 look fairly miserable and ill at ease. Celibidache himself has clearly had a bad hair day, indeed when he returns for his ovation he appears to have gone through a car wash using Brylcreem instead of water and without the drying programme.
 
It’s a valuable record and I can probably answer my own question posted at the start of this review. Given his demanding requirements for rehearsal time, it would probably have run to three DVDs if they had filmed that instead, but how much more interesting it would have been.
 
Christopher Fifield



 


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