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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony no. 9 in D minor (Nowak edition) [76:50]
Rehearsal extracts [32:59]
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. live 10 September 1995 (performance), 4-7 September 1995 (rehearsals), Philharmonie am Gasteig, Munich
Photocopied complete original booklet includes English  translation of rehearsal extracts but no transcription of the original German
EMI CLASSICS 5566992 [47:39 + 65:40]

Quite like old times, having to get up in the middle of Bruckner 9 to change discs. An obvious criticism of the production is that the symphony could perfectly well have been accommodated on one CD, leaving the rehearsals as a supplementary bonus on their own.
As I pointed out when reviewing Celibidache’s Bruckner 5, this composer seems to have reached a primary position in his repertoire only gradually. He mentions during the rehearsal sequence that he had already conducted Bruckner in his Berlin days – the late 1940s. Nonetheless, the 1969 Turin performance of the Ninth which is now available on video (OpusArte OA0976D - see review) must come somewhere near the start of a pilgrimage which would gradually cover almost the complete cycle of this composer’s symphonies. In 1958, however, he conducted a performance of the F minor Mass in Rome with a notable quartet of soloists: Suzanne Danco, Marga Höffgen, Waldemar Kmennt and Frederick Guthrie.
The 1969 Ninth was already extremely fine, with tempi pretty well within the norm. The table below gives timings of two subsequent performances in Turin, a definitely valedictory-sounding reading under Ferdinand Leitner, a conductor whose Bruckner was much appreciated, and a late performance from Giulini, another specialist in slow tempi. I also give the timings of another individualist, Vladimir Delman (Aura AUR4252 - see review), and approximate timings of the Carl Schuricht LP which was one of the joys of my university days.

Celibidache (RAI Turin 02.05.1969)
Leitner (RAI Turin 29.10.1987)
Giulini (RAI Turin 15.02.1996)
Delman (Emilia Romagna 04.1994)
Schuricht (VPO, EMI)
Celibidache (Munich 1995)

It may be surprising to find Giulini quite swift in this company and the only one to offer at least a hint of the real Allegro Scherzo favoured by Furtwängler and Karajan. Some listeners find Schuricht’s Adagio a little on the fast side. Delman’s first movement takes several steps in the late-Celibidache direction, but his Adagio definitely does not. In the last resort, however, these timings just show that late Celibidache cannot be usefully compared with anybody, even his earlier self. It is curious to think that, if Bruckner had completed this work, a late Celibidache performance might have lasted almost two hours.
When reviewing the 1993 Fifth I waxed lyrical about the steadiness and inevitability with which the vast structure was unfolded. I felt that in spite of the slow tempi the effect was actually terse and concise, a definitive presentation.
I am sure the present Ninth must have been a deeply moving occasion for all those who had been attending Celibidache’s concerts since his arrival in Munich. Performing for what was predictably the last time a work very dear to him, he took a deliberately valedictory approach, almost groping his way through the music as if reluctant to reach the end. He does not present that sense of structural cogency, of inevitability, that he created in the 1993 Fifth and I get the idea he does not wish to. All the same, the music risks stasis at too many points. Maybe when my own sands are running out, hopefully some decades hence, I shall listen to this performance with tears running down my face. I’m not sure that I’ll get it out much in the meantime, though. Yet again, we have proof that Celibidache was right in his belief that his performances could not be fully appreciated away from the occasion that created them – and especially not when heard at home on CD.
And yet … as I write, parts of the music are running through my head, and they insist on going at Celibidache’s tempi. I can’t help wondering, though, if this was really the performance to choose for issue, since I am sure this symphony appeared quite regularly during Celibidache’s Munich years. Instead of the rehearsal extracts, it might have been more imaginative to issue the first and last Munich performances in a double-CD pack. I am pretty sure that somewhere, locked away in the vaults, a Celibidache Ninth as powerfully argued as that Fifth must exist. That would be my desert island Ninth. In the meantime, the Turin DVD is recommendable and would be worth an audio issue since the television soundtrack is in mono and a stereo tape exists. I also note that DG have issued a Stuttgart performance from the 1970s which takes only fractionally longer than the Turin one.
The rehearsal extracts are interesting but, as so often with such things, they yield little hints of just what the Celibidache alchemy was. He is heard patiently yet firmly correcting balance, phrasing, dynamics. He addresses players by their Christian names and explains just why he is asking for certain things. A string crescendo, for example, must not be so steep as to obscure the woodwind, who have the leading material and cannot make such a big crescendo. But in the last resort these are all things that any competent conductor can pick out. The genius of Celibidache lay in what he could inspire the orchestra to do during the concert, and no one can explain that.
Since this is the last of my present batch of Celibidache CDs – as well as Bruckner 5 I found his Tchaikovsky 5 quite extraordinary – I should like to conclude with a reference to the Celibidache recording paradox. Despite his opposition to the record-making process, most of his conducting appointments were with radio orchestras or other institutions that automatically recorded all their concerts. In reality he must have known perfectly well that he was effectively one of the most completely recorded conductors of all time. Almost his entire career is held in one radio archive or another, from the early Berlin period through the RAI years, Stuttgart, Sweden and then Munich. The question is, will we ever hear more than a handful of these? The original EMI release of which the present disc was a part has been deleted – though I believe the boxed set is still available – and  licensed out to ArkivMusic. This hardly suggests an overwhelming public response. In all truth, these are not recordings for the uninitiated public and most reviews have suggested as much. On the other hand, even when one rejects the Celibidache approach, our perceptions and responses to the music are challenged and broadened. This was a challenge which the Berlin Philharmonic ducked in 1954 when it chose the more commercially viable Wunderkind Karajan as successor to Furtwängler, in spite of the latter’s well-known wishes on the matter. In a way the entire history of music-making in the last half-century – hardly a happy period – is encapsulated in that decision. For all Karajan’s well-groomed excellence, it is doubtful whether anyone’s perceptions of the music he conducted were ever challenged or broadened. But in view of the wide sales he achieved and the limited interest aroused by the Celibidache recordings when they finally started to be released, that’s probably how the public wanted it.
Christopher Howell


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