César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphony in D minor (1886-8) [38:45]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasy (1869/1880) [25:04]*
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della RAI, *Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. in performance, July 1957, *April 1960
ISTITUTO DISCOGRAFICO ITALIANO IDIS 6611 [63: 51]
Given Celibidache's proclivity for slow motion, I had my fears for the Franck Symphony. While I'm fond of the piece, it does lend itself to thickness and a sort of tortuous harmonic churning. In fact, the conductor's performance strikes a good balance between weight and propulsion.
It's true that in the symphony's Lento introduction - rather, in both its Lento introductions - Celibidache manages to out-Furtwängler Furtwängler in his evocation of an inward, concentrated intensity only indicated, rather than realized, by the older conductor (Decca). Surprisingly, the main Allegro non troppo goes at a more or less conventional tempo, with a lively snap to the dotted rhythms in the Toscanini manner, save that the sonority is full rather than lean. The development wavers between turbulence and calm reflection, yet Celibidache makes it seem all of a piece. As always, the conductor manages to bring out some previously unnoticed or neglected detail - here, the bassoon octaves at 11:27 - which, I suppose, compensates for the rushing flute phrase that should happen at 9:17, but doesn't.
The central Allegretto - the de facto slow movement, despite the tempo marking -isn't done badly or mannered, but, despite its buoyant rhythmic ebb and flow, Celibidache draws nothing special from it. The finale, however, chugs along nicely, with the second theme not straying too far from the established pulse. The textures open up, as if letting in light, as the movement proceeds, and the two climactic restatements, at 4:05 and 9:25, are jubilant.
The level of attention required to get through Celibidache's rehearsals, let alone performances, must have taken its toll on many players' stamina, and ensemble is hardly perfect. Besides the previously noted smudges in the introduction of the Franck, numerous uncertain, inaccurate, and just plain sloppy attacks plague the slow introduction of Romeo. Sometimes these detract from the effective details: thus, after the rising sonorities crest in gloriously vibrant chords - the first is at 5:33 - the phrase that follows brings a few bars of utter chaos.
Oddly, such ensemble problems only crop up in slow music: elsewhere, Celibidache's propulsive rhythm seems to keep the players alert and involved. Thus, once Romeo finally gets going, the "fight scenes" are turbulent, but have an almost balletic spring; the love theme is plaintive in the woodwinds, full-throated and expansive when the full orchestra takes it up later on.
The sound quality is a bit grainy, but clear and full enough. The labels don't mention stereo, but there's some directional effect - note the big bass crescendos in the Romeo introduction - and sense of stereo spread. The lack of applause after either piece suggests that these might be archival broadcasts rather than actual concert performances.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.
Striking a good balance between weight and propulsion.
see also review by Christopher Howell