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Sergiu Celibidache - Firebrand and Philosopher - A film by Norbert Busè
Bonus items: Celibidache conducts Beethoven’s Egmont Overture with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, 1950
Extended interviews with Daniel Barenboim, Michael Ballhaus and Irina-Paraschiva Celibidachi
Picture: NTSC 16:9; Sound: PCM Stereo; Format: NTSC; Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Audio languages: English, German
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean
ARTHAUS 101661 [53:00 (documentary) + 30:00 (bonus)]

I have to admit to being a fanatical worshipper of Celibidache’s work. Yes, I know that his slow tempi aren’t to everyone’s taste but I love his slavish attention to detail, articulation and balance. He detested mediocrity but the downsides for many orchestras were his demands on their time and the requirement for what they often viewed as excessive rehearsals.
 
Norbert Busè's film portrait clearly demonstrates the conductor’s love of music and his lack of interest in wealth and celebrity. It also explores Celibidache’s childhood through the reminiscences of his sister. There is one especially poignant moment: having packed his bags to leave home as a 25 year old to pursue a musical career in Berlin, this was the last time he ever saw his father. He wanted the young Sergiu to follow another pathway and was very set against his son choosing music.
 
The film draws on documentation from the Berlin Academy of Music Archives along with interviews with family, students and admirers, including Daniel Barenboim. Considerable footage is devoted to his conducting classes - Celibidache’s idea of a 3 week annual holiday was to devote himself to teaching others. His general approach to his students was to knock them down first, make them rethink what they were doing on the podium and then build them up.
 
There are short, tantalising glimpses of him in action, including the Prelude to Tristan, Stravinsky’s Firebird, Mozart’s Requiem, Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel, Bruckner 9 and Tchaikovsky 5. There’s also a complete Egmont overture with the Berlin Philharmonic as an enjoyable bonus.
 
Celibidache was catapulted to fame when, during Furtwängler’s absence after the war, he took charge of the Berlin Philharmonic. He was inexperienced and stubborn. The orchestra eventually turned against him and appointed Karajan as Furtwängler’s successor in 1955. Celibidache had no time for the commercial world - including the recording studio - but Karajan was the supreme modern maestro and salesman. This was a bitter blow to Celibidache but he finally ended his spiritual journey with a golden 17 year spell at the Munich Philharmonic, starting in 1979, where he totally transformed the orchestra.
 
The interviewees all talk warmly about the great man but offer nothing new. The musical extracts are too short to show us what he actually did during rehearsals and in performance. As a Celibidache lover I found it moderately interesting but nothing very special. To find out what Celibidache was really about, to try to track down a Euro Arts DVD which contains an extensive, totally riveting rehearsal of Till Eulenspiegel with the Stuttgart RSO. Over and above that, just search out and listen to some of the CDs that were issued after he died to experience some fantastic live music-making. I’m sorry to be so lukewarm about this DVD.
 
John Whitmore 



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