Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Celibidache in St. Florian
Mass No. 3 in F minor - Documentary of rehearsal and performance sequences [60.00]
Margaret Price (soprano), Doris Soffel (mezzo), Peter Straka (tenor), Matthias Hölle (bass), Hans Sotin (bass)
Munich Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. Stiftskirche St. Florian, 1993
Director: Jan Schmidt-Garre
Picture Format: 4:3
Disc Format: DVD 5 NTSC
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Subtitle Languages: English, French, Spanish, Japanese
Bonus: Guest appearance of Sergiu Celibidache and Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in Moscow during a state visit, 1989 [5.00]
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101678 [65.00]
Many could be forgiven for thinking, as I did, that this is a complete concert performance of Bruckner’s F minor Mass. The front cover of the DVD does not lead you to suspect otherwise. It is only when reading the small print on the back that you discover that this is a documentary of rehearsal and performance sequences by the director Jan Schmidt-Garre. This is disappointing, and I feel that this should have been made clear on the front cover. Furthermore, the only date given is a publishing date of 1993 and, having watched the film three times, I am totally confused as to the chronology of the events documented. As the title suggests, the focus of the DVD is on the St. Florian performance, which I would presume took place in 1993. The rehearsal sequences in the church would likewise be from that occasion. I noticed that in the rehearsals in the Philharmonic Concert Hall, the orchestra has a different leader. Also, the bass here is Matthias Holle, whereas in St. Florian it is Hans Sotin. This leads me to suspect that the rehearsal excerpts in the concert hall are from an earlier date, a fact corroborated by the date of March 1990 on the EMI Classics CD (56702) of the Mass, which has the same soloists, including Holle.
Yet there are many positive aspects to this documentary. As always with Celibidache, his is a very personal approach. His tempi are on the broad side, especially if you compare the speeds with Jochum (DG 447 409), a benchmark recording of this work for me. Yet, in this work, Celi’s tempi do seem to work, allowing the textures to emerge. Throughout, the documentary gives us some insight into the maestro’s profound musicianship and devotion to the score. He knows the work inside out, directing both the performance and indeed the rehearsals without a score. He is a great source of inspiration for the orchestra, choir and soloists alike. Like Carlos Kleiber, Celi demanded and had the luxury of more rehearsal time than most other conductors.
What is also evident from the film is his attention to detail. He is concerned at all times with orchestral/choral balance, and shaping the musical phrases into a coherent whole. Phrasing and dynamics are also an important factor. He criticizes Brucknerian scholars like Loewe, who incorrectly substituted the time signature alla breve for 4/4 in the Gloria,which was Bruckner’s intention, ‘it is the Credo in 2’ he emphatically states. His interaction with the performers is fascinating. He switches from German to English quite readily. Indeed I have heard it said that he could speak several languages fluently. His smile is beguiling, and he frequently praises the performers, always showing them great courtesy. He is on first name terms with some of the principals. He loses his temper only once at the beginning of the film when he decides that he wants the choir to be moved forward to accommodate the acoustic problems of St. Florian. This necessitates the orchestra being rearranged. When one poor man questions the logistics of this move, Celi forcefully insists that his demands are carried out without question.
Throughout, the documentary switches between orchestral rehearsal, orchestral/choir rehearsal, piano/choir rehearsal and concert performance. All five performers - including the interchangeable basses - are excellent. It is poignant to see the soprano Margaret Price, who died two years ago in 2011.
As a five-minute bonus we get a small filmed extract of the maestro’s trip to Moscow with the Munich Philharmonic in 1988. The film appears very dated and grainy, and looks as though it was shot in the 1960s. It shows part of a press conference that Celi gave, and ends with an orchestral rehearsal of the Russian and German national anthems. His remarks to the orchestra at the end are salutary: ‘Keep the discipline. You are being filmed and watched’.
It is extremely disappointing that a complete performance of the Mass is not included. After all, the duration of the DVD is only 65 minutes and presumably the entire St. Florian performance was filmed anyway. There is no separate booklet, and the only documentation is an interview between Schmidt-Garre and the conductor, printed on the inside cover of the DVD case. Nevertheless, it is good to see the great maestro at work, and budding conductors will learn a great deal from this film, though I cannot help feeling that many acquiring this DVD will, in the end, feel short-changed.
Some good insights into Celibadache’s rehearsal technique, but many will feel short-changed at the end of this DVD.
Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey
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