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Great Conductors: Sergiu CELIBIDACHE Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung, Ein Heldenleben*  Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Pini di Roma  - Bonus CD - Celibidache rehearses Tod und Verklärung and Pini di Roma  SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sergiu Celibidache  DG 453 190-2 2CDs +bonus CD * [52:08]; [69:53]; † [37:52] Midprice

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Great Conductors: Sergiu CELIBIDACHE

The Stuttgart Recordings of:-

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Don Juan
Tod und Verklärung
Ein Heldenleben*

Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)

Pini di Roma

Bonus CD - Celibidache rehearses Tod und Verklärung and Pini di Roma †

SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sergiu Celibidache

DG 453 190-2 2CDs +bonus CD * [52:08]; [69:53]; † [37:52]

The Background

Sergiu Celibidache, the Romanian conductor and composer conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1945 to 1951, and made his London debut in 1948 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He composed four symphonies and a piano concerto. He spent much time with radio orchestras: e.g. - South German Radio (Stuttgart) from 1959 and Stockholm 1962-71. He was chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra from 1979.

Celibidache was a perfectionist and insisted on a heavy rehearsal schedule and disliked recordings.

Writing in the set's booklets, son, Serge Ioan Celibidache, explains that although his father was unswervingly opposed to the audio recording medium, his family had decided to allow his sound archives (live performances) to be made available to the public. "Although they may not be 'music' according to his definition, these recordings are still replete with his colours, his inflections, his phrasing, his pianissimi, his fortissimi, his subtleties…" The main reason given for the release of these recordings is to fight the "appalling proliferation of low-quality, pirated CDs which have been released over the years…"

Celibidache hated the Recording Process

Celibidache hated the recording process [with some justification considering the 'jigsaw' final products one so often hears through so many edits]. He maintained that the full dimensions of the music could not be faithfully captured on disc, some of the ephiphenomena would inevitably be lost and that the microphone created its own vibrations and distortions.

Celibidache insisted on Thorough Rehearsals

The bonus CD gives an insight into his rehearsals. Those speaking German will obviously derive the most from this invaluable document but the progression of the music during the rehearsals is understandable enough. Christian Gansch, Deutsche Grammophon's producer for the Celibidache Edition writes in this CD's booklet that Celibidache often required more than twice as many rehearsals to prepare a concert as the international musical norm. He instilled into his players a sense of individuality - a sense of their own importance in the framework of the piece and, yet, also of a collective musical consciousness. "One of Celibidache's most important ways of achieving "symphonic continuity" was his principle of "humanising of musical phrases." A forte for him was not simply a forte, a piano not simply a piano. Within the dynamics indicated by the composer, it was necessary to phrase the subsidiary, accompanimental parts as well as the principal, melodic ones. Depending on the level of intensity and pitch of the music as it unfolded, he would, for example, vary a forte between fortissimo and mezzo-piano. A descent in pitch within a phrase also essentially required a reduction in loudness. Celibidache worked to sustain the character of, in this case, forte, by demanding from the strings, more economy in bowing combined with increased pressure, and from the winds an "introverted" but more intense tone. The result was not unstructured noise but rather Celibidache's "human" dimension of voicing linear construction."

The Music on the CDs

Richard Strauss - Ein Heldenleben

I will be the first to confess that hitherto Ein Heldenleben had not impressed me for I thought much of it incoherent and muddled. Celibidache himself wasn't totally convinced either - particularly with the "The Hero's Works of Peace" - and speaking specifically of a certain 33 bars: the quotations form his life, Celibidache argued that - "the tension is broken. A disaster!" Yet this reading, more than any I have heard thus far, has caused me to revise my opinion of this work.

Celibidache's Ein Heldenleben, says Christopher Schlüren, is broader than that of any other conductor (broader even than Barbirolli's) but its effect is one of astonishing lightness, vitality and capriciousness." This lightness, though, does not mean any loss of detail or contrapuntal complexity - on the contrary, it is all there, more clearly and more convincingly revealed. The opening movement, 'The Hero' is virile yet tender enough; the character is more rounded than usual for many little felicities are apparent. The strings sing lushly, the horns proclaim a real hero. The Second movement 'The Hero's Adverseries' are portrayed by Celibidache as snivelling, crawling low-life; like a malignant swarm of maggots and of course the hero rises above it all magnanimously. (It was suggested that Richard Strauss had his critics in mind!) The third movement, 'The Hero's Companion' is a dialogue between solo violin and orchestra, with the violin in a not too complimentary role as the female companion. Immediately, the hero's theme is denigrated to bathos, almost, to bemusement and barely tolerance as the orchestra watches and quietly and resignedly comments on the violin as it twitters away petulantly and coquettishly. Celibidache takes his time to explore this dysfunctional domestic relationship, then he slowly builds up to a more passionate climax that would indicate more sexual harmony in the bedroom or merely memories of courtship? This movement is perhaps a musical self-portrait of Strauss, with his wife in the non-too-flattering role played by the violin. Celibidache excels in bringing out all the detail in 'The Hero's Battlefield.' The excitement of this movement will blow your socks off! You sense the explosions, the roar of the guns, the palls of smoke obscuring the torn landscape. This is a triumph of theatricality with the sonic images spread realistically across the sound stage. But then comes the disappointment and anti-climax of 'The Hero's Work for Peace' which is full of introspective musings. Celibidache tries to give it some focus and indeed it has its moments in the hero's struggle to maintain his convictions against his adversaries, and in their eventual capitulation, but it remains the weakest movement, the one where the mind is most tempted to wonder. In 'The Hero's Retreat from the World' Celibidache quietly banishes the demons of the earlier movements and even the Hero's companion has mellowed and the work ends in harmony.

Richard Strauss - Tod Und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration)

I cannot remember ever hearing a more exciting and beautifully paced and shaped reading of this extraordinary visionary work as this one! Even the audience's coughings, could not break the spell, for me, of the opening with its heavy uneven sighing, slow labouring strings, the low long-held wind chords and the slow, measured and meaningful timpani beats as we enter the room of the dying hero. Then there are the wonderfully wrought and controlled harp figures signalling a lightening of the texture and the beginnings of the narrative as we are drawn into a recapitulation of the events that have shaped the dying man's life: happy, serene, childhood memories; romantic and passionate recollections; and turbulent and war-torn experiences. Each climax is a tremendously thrilling experience and again Celibidache maintains his relatively light touch yet preserves every detail of Strauss's complex structure, building enormous tension. The transition from life to the hereafter is beautifully managed with those gong strokes felt rather than heard. The subsequent final climax is truly radiant.

Richard Strauss - Don Juan

Celibidache's Don Juan is a dashing hero indeed. The love scenes are very sensual yet Celibidache succeeds in showing us the essential loneliness of, and makes us sympathise with, the habitual seducer who is unable to find the woman of his life but is condemned to go from conquest to conquest in vain pursuit of his ideal. The more 'swashbuckling' music is thrilling enough.

Ottorino Respighi Pini Di Roma

For me, Celibidache's conception of Respighi's Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome) is not quite so convincing. For me the opening movement, the 'Pines of the Villa Borghese' are a little too earnest and too symphonic - they lack the childish charm that other interpreters bring to this episode. He is totally convincing in 'Pines near a Catacombe.' The narrative force is very strong in the burgeoning string work and in the majestic pointing of the brass. The lovely 'The pines of the Janiculum' is lovingly shaped and there are some appealing felicities such as most realistically sounding bird song evocations and lovely translucent celeste and bells figures. But I felt the woodwind soloists were recorded just a little too closely thus risking spoiling the rapt moonlit reverie. The final March, past 'The pines of the Appian Way' builds slowly but strongly to a suitably shattering climax.

For Richard Strauss enthusiasts, this is an album to cherish.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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