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Symphonies 3, 4 "Romantic", 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 (+ rehearsal of No.9)
Te Deum*; Mass in F minor**

Margaret Price (soprano)*/**, Christel Borchers (contralto)*, Doris Soffel (contralto)**, Claes H Ahnsjo (tenor)*, Peter Straka (tenor)**, Karl Helm (bass)*, Matthias Holle (bass)**, Munich Philharmonic Choir*/**, Munich Bach Choir*
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Sergiu Celibidache
EMI CDS 5 56688 2 [12 CDs]
(individual releases detailed below)
Crotchet  £129.99  Amazon UK   £134.99  Amazon USA

"Bruckner's existence is God's greatest gift," is one of Celibidache's more quotable sayings. This second (of three) EMI boxes devoted to Celi's work with the Munich Philharmonic is dominated by a composer that even Celi's staunchest critics respected him in. Thus I could simply report these are remarkable performances and recommend immediate acquisition of them. However, Celi's individualism, despite much CD activity, still requires introduction - to give some idea of what makes him unique.

Anyone who has sampled the plethora of Celi issue now available from DG and EMI will, I imagine, have been overwhelmed or left questioning. The problem remains that some people find Celi's performances insufferably boring, bemoaning his (to them) lugubrious tempi (a criticism pertaining more to the Munich years). Writing as someone who's known Celi's work for over twenty years, it's rare when I've not been convinced. It depends, I'm inclined to muse, on how and why we listen. As one who relates to Celi and his concern for sound, I can confirm that listening will never be the same again.

Celibidache had a remarkable ability to balance the orchestra utilizing a hall's acoustic and his comprehensive knowledge of instruments' sound-waves - science applied to sound becoming music. These factors and the music's density helped formulate the speed. Celi's rationale commanded each orchestral musician to know his part in relation to all other parts by listening to, blending with, and complementing colleagues, Celi their guide and arbitrator. Engaging with Celi's performances completely is akin to listening in 3-D: (1) to the performance itself while (2) appreciating the preparation and perceiving this with (3} an awareness of Celi's auditory philosophy - sound itself and its auditioning within a specific acoustic - which determined how music was brought alive.

My own perception of his work suggests that Celi required music should `speak': subtle phrasal curves and manifold accents equate to speech patterns and correct syllabic stressing. His germane handling of transitions and far-sighted control of dynamics allows section-to-section dovetailing and indivisible musical growth. Thus word becomes sentence becomes paragraph becomes chapter becomes book - with an unbroken musical line over the edifice. In describing Celi's conductorial manifesto, I could equally have described Bruckner's music. This is perhaps why Bruckner and Celibidache are regarded as made for each other. Yet Celi's methods were not foolproof, nor did they disguise composers' faults, and Bruckner was not a perfect composer.

In Munich, from 1979 until his death, Celi [1912-96] found haven as the Philharmonic's Artistic Director. The playing from committed and inspired musicians is superb, especially the strings. Celi's orchestral hallmark is a beautiful sound - not vainly self-regarding but one illuminated from within; instrumental clarity relieves detail rather than clinically revealing it. Off-setting cerebral comment with emotional response, I suggest that his performances testify to Celi loving music deeply, his performances glowed with humanity and the eloquence of the playing speaks of a special relationship.

Before commenting on Celi's Bruckner, EMI's unsatisfactory CD layout in two instances requires mention. These live, splendidly recorded performances given in Munich's Gasteig between 1987 and 1995 generally include applause fore and aft. Such inclusion proposes we listen in the way we would (or should) at concerts. The applause can be programmed out but EMI's inconsistent usage allows some Symphonies an unnecessary second disc. The unapplauded 79'11" No.4 is on one CD; the 79'10" No.7 would also occupy one if an additional 108 seconds of clapping had been discarded (the Te Deum fills the second CD). No.9, even with audience appreciation, still fits one CD. Had this been achieved a 2-CD package of an uninterrupted Ninth could have been produced with a second 65-minute CD containing the 9th's rehearsal and Te Deum - Bruckner's suggested Finale for the Symphony he knew would be unfinished. As it is the Ninth lops on to a second carrier with just the rehearsal. Thoughtfully EMI provide a translation of Romanian-born Celi's German.

In the light of my comments, I must now say that it's purely coincidental that what I regard as the greatest performances here are on single CDs: Nos.3, 4 & 6. Anyone resisting Nowak's 1889 3rd (utilizing Bruckner's cuts and a thicker orchestration than used in 1873 and 1877) might reconsider this edition in Celi's majestic reading (he didn't conduct the four earlier symphonies that include "00" and "0"). Celi opens out the vistas of the Romantic incomparably: the final bars are awe-inspiring and crown Celi's very expansive traversal, one which compelled Robert Simpson - the composer, and Bruckner-author - to alter his dismissive view of the Finale. This is the CD to buy if you want something truly representative of Celi's Bruckner (you might well come back for more of course). The 6th is fiery, Celi appreciating its classical countenance; the slow movement is particularly wonderful, very expressive and deeply moving. (Part of EMI's 6th - 29/11/91 - is used on Sony's video - SHV 48348 - which is otherwise a composite from concerts between 26th-30th.)

If the first movement of No.5 could be more granitic, compensation comes in the dancing Trio [6'17"-8'15"] where the woodwinds are frisky and the clarinet's insouciant upward scale at 7'06" epitomizes sheer delight. Equally miraculous is an episode [13'36"-15'46"] within the Finale's fugue where Celi has considered every note, giving each an identity. In such passages one considers Celi a genius. The choral works include a sincerely devotional Te Deum boasting breathtaking choral unanimity; Celi's way with Mass No.3 focuses on its monumental aspects while being conscious of Bruckner's sincere, simple faith.

A Brucknerian eyebrow might be raised at printed timings for the final symphonic trilogy. For example 35'04" for No.8's slow movement (Celi uses Nowak's editing of Bruckner's shorter text!) or the outer ones of No.9 at 32'26" and 30'37" respectively (together longer than some conductors take over all three movements!). Yet only one of the eleven movements (constituting 7-9) is questionable: No.8's Finale. Celi takes 32'08". He's no slower proportionately than elsewhere but underlines this movement's structural flaws by giving us so much time to hear them. A friend thought of "a beached whale" and this seems apt. It's a long haul, fascinating of course, but the least convincing part of this set. An earlier, Stuttgart Radio Eighth is now on DG and is preferable. Celi nutters will, of course, want both!

Perhaps the 7th is too consistently beautiful, something more muscular being periodically required during its 80-minute span. Although Celi uses Haas's edition - for his quieter dynamics - his interpolation of Nowak's cymbal and triangle at the Adagio's climax is unwelcome. (Haas eschews all percussion at this point, albeit the timpani are arguably important harmonically.)

The 1995 9th represents Celi's `final thoughts' on Bruckner's visionary last, incomplete Symphony. So concentrated is his conducting it doesn't seem to last 77 minutes. Although I'll treasure this example of `late Celi' - interesting to compare this with unofficial releases of two earlier Munich renditions and the recent DG release of an even earlier Stuttgart Radio SO reading - it's possible Celi's transcendental outer movements and `heavy' account of the violent scherzo will disorientate some listeners. Celi's is an unprecedented achievement in this work. It's not Celi's slow tempi that should interest us, it's how he arrives at them. Our reward is to appreciate why a Celi performance is as it is, what we learn from it, and how the music is illuminated.

Although I have expressed some reservations, there's not a single performance I wouldn't return to with keen anticipation. I have not gone into great detail about Celi's manifold musical observations - that would take a book, or in website terms, many megabytes - but I have outlined his formula and a sketch of the concert outcome. These are striking performances of miraculous music by an extraordinary musician: Bruckner's cathedrals of sound and Celibidache's acoustical science form a comprehensive alliance.


Colin Anderson

  • The following details individual CD numbers. Please note that outside of the UK, 7243 replace CDS (and CDC for separate issues).

No.3 in D minor CDC 5 56689 2 ***** Crotchet

No.4 Romantic CDC 5 56690 2 ***** Crotchet

No.5 in B flat CDS 5 56691 2 (2 CDs) **** Crotchet

No.6 in A CDC 5 56694 2 ***** Crotchet

No.7 (with Te Deum) CDS 5 56695 2 (2 CDs) ****/***** Crotchet

No.8 in C minor CDC 5 56696 2 (2 CDs) *** Crotchet

No.9 in D minor (+ rehearsal) CDC 5 56699 2 (2 CDs) ****(*) Crotchet

Mass in F minor CDC 5 56702 2 ****  Crotchet


Gerald Fenech



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