Back in October 2007 I reviewed
one of these DVDs, the Strauss and Rimsky ‘in rehearsal
and performance’ disc. It’s slightly changed artwork
colour since then, but is still available singly, and still
carries the same catalogue number. Now, however, it can also
be found available as part of this slip-cased set. I’ll
reprise my comments here, but be briefer about the remaining
Strauss and Rimsky-Korsakov
With regard to this disc, admirers will find much to interest
them in this DVD for whilst parts of it have appeared before,
such as portions of the Till rehearsal - it’s in part
two of the Art Of Conducting - the fuller context brings greater
rewards. The rehearsal was given in 1965 and was captured in
black and white film.
It’s notable for the richness of Celibidache’s verbal
pointers. He wears slacks and a jumper. I noted down some of
the more enlightening sallies; and they come thick and fast.
“Too much bow” is perhaps a conductorial commonplace,
though as often as not it’s too little bow that’s
the problem not too much. Not for Celi in Strauss. “Vibratissimo”
is a vibrant usage and certainly gets the strings working as
does his encouraging “very intelligent” to the first
violins before adding - a master of psychology - that he’d
like them to repeat the passage because they weren’t together.
Some of his comments to the string section are the most revealing
of his methodology and show one how he liked to build up the
string sound. He’s insistent that the bowing of the second
violins and violas is tied to the firsts. At one point he steps
off the rostrum to discuss technical matters with the orchestra’s
leader leading to an outburst of relieved schoolboy chatter
in the ranks. Then again how could you resist - but how to put
into effect? - his commanding cry of “Remain Epic, gentlemen.”
So whilst remaining epic and displaying the requisite intelligence
- for string tone, balance - one needs to be careful over rhythmic
matters under Celi’s watchful eye. He’s solicitous
though, adding “I don’t want to hustle the horns”
whilst admonishing the basses to “work together.”
He rightly stops the increasingly flat horn section and comes
down hard on “spaghetti” bowing - he can be very
funny when he wants to be - and all the while he mentions part
of the Til narrative to the orchestra to encourage and
sharpen their musico-dramatic sense. I certainly can’t
imagine too many of his contemporaries telling their orchestra
“metal strings are no good - smells of burning.”
He’s clearly after a more burnished sound though he doesn’t
need to spell it out. He dances like a dervish too when the
rhythm begins to hot up though things get deliriously carried
away when after giving an upbeat nothing happens - and conductor
and band dissolve into delighted laughter. Though of course
he remains in control to the end, admonishing the players not
to get sentimental. These camera shots are well filmed, generally
from the behind the back desk of the first fiddles. The subsequent
concert performance features a little shaky camera work but
is otherwise unobtrusive; in black and white again obviously.
The Scheherazade concert footage comes from nearly twenty years
later and is in colour. The saturnine dervish has aged into
a portly, grey haired seignior. It’s a pleasure to see
him smile with pleasure at the climaxes, as it is to
see his shimmering left hand encouraging more string tone. The
performance is slow though not as slow as it was to become but
also full of beautiful curvature and colour. The camera set-up
is conventional and relatively expert. But the same can’t
be said of the sound, which is annoyingly opaque and will dampen
your ardour. You can hear it in much better sound on DG 445141-2.
Despite these caveats the longish Strauss rehearsal will merit
a place on your shelf. It is an interesting character study
- of control, relaxation, terseness and more floridly encouraging
praise. Psychologically it’s a rewarding half an hour
plus - and the performance shows the translation of those ideas
and ideals in fine fashion.
Celi was joined by a favoured colleague, Daniel Barenboim, for
performances of both Brahms piano concertos in 1991. The First
was recorded at the Stadthalle Erlangen, whilst the Second was
at the Philharmonie in Munich.
By this stage the conductor was walking slowly and being gently
hauled up to the rostrum where he presided over proceedings
sitting on a chair. As might be expected in the D minor, the
maestoso elements of the music are intensely explored. The measured
and monumental approach is imbued with a considerable degree
of rubato, something with which the pianist is in full accord.
Barenboim’s metrical fluidity dovetails perfectly with
Celibidache’s own view. But it’s also noticeable
how watchful Barenboim is. It’s clear that he can’t
always make out Celibidache’s (minimal) cues, and so he
strains physically to try to catch Celi cueing the winds at
one point. He also looks at him around the piano lid. One feels
that Barenboim would have been more comfortable if ensemble
could have been ensured rather than being guessed at.
The slow movement is rapt and expressive, and of a piece. Once
again the soloist is keen to ensure ensemble, to which end he
follows the clarinets and oboes. By the finale Celi, with a
minimum of gesture, has remained cool, but Barenboim is drenched
in sweat beneath the bright lights. Excellent camera angles
ensure that we witness the full complement of drama of the performance.
But it is slow, slow, slow.
The Second Concerto seems more closely miked than the companion
concerto and the sound slightly less veiled too. Camera work
is once again fine, though we also get the by now standard shots
of the pianist, face on, through the raised piano lid. There’s
a camera in the body of the orchestra which we only see very
occasionally. Yet however occasional it may be, it still jars
every time. The director delays a close up of the cello principal
is his slow movement solo until, in effect, the reprise, something
I found frustrating. Yet again, given the positioning of the
conductor’s chair we can see, quite graphically, just
how problematic is contact between soloist and conductor, no
matter how experienced they both might be. This is another fine
performance, though it’s received more coolly than the
companion concerto. Barenboim smiles appreciatively at the principal
cellist, and Celibidache adds his own applause for the performance.
Dvořák and Prokofiev
One of the most disconcerting things about the performance of
Dvořák’s New World Symphony (1991)
is that one of the violinists looks just like Dvořák.
This amusing detail was clearly not lost on director János
Darvas because he spends quite a number of his relatively few
close ups on this particular string player. If you don’t
know what the Czech composer looked like then this won’t
trouble you. If you do, then it will raise a smile. It looks
like some weird shift in the space/time continuum has occurred.
This is late Celi; beefy, bulked up, bronzed, edging to the
corpulent. There’s quite elastic phrasing in the Largo,
but the folk rhythms have been pretty well flattened out elsewhere,
and I can’t say I got much from the military rhythm in
Prokofiev’s Classical symphony is a different kettle of
fish. This was recorded in rehearsal and then in performance
in 1988. One can learn a lot from this rehearsal in particular.
A much trimmer conductor stands for this. He spends much of
the time concentrating on the strings, barely bothering to correct
anyone else. Citing him doesn’t really convey how funny
he could be: thus the admonition; ‘Cosy bow stroke for
pensioners - use the original bowing’ doesn’t sound
sneering at all in context. But because he doesn’t use
a score, the concertmaster constantly reminds him of the rehearsal
number, which can slow things up. The rehearsal is a convincing
exploration of the gradual refining of a string section, also
of the malleable suggestiveness of some of his stories. He tells
the orchestra a little narrative about one scene in the Symphony.
It seems to work. Only once does he address a player by name
and that’s when he talks to the principal flute, called
Max. ‘I miss the belch’ he says. Max duly obliges
by roughing up his articulation. All this is in German of course,
but the subtitles are very effective. The actual performance
is played in civvies. Celi sashays his way through the finale,
having a high old time.
Schumann and Tchaikovsky
Barenboim is back, once again in 1991, and this time with concertos
by Schumann and Tchaikovsky. He plays the former in the same
location he’d performed Brahms First. The performance
also adheres to the same flexibility and expansiveness. But
power and lyricism are held in fine balance, and the camera
direction captures pianistic nuances with fidelity. Oddly, Barenboim
stares out into the audience for some considerable time before
launching the slow movement, but one can’t pick up what
the interruption or distraction was. His playing here and throughout
is both fluent and sensitive, and garners very warm applause.
Similar traits imbue the Tchaikovsky. This is a really fine
performance, full of bravura but also a sense of rich colour
and imaginative characterisation. Virtuosity is not paraded
for its own sake, the music emerging both dramatic and exciting.
But the excitement isn’t generated mechanically, it’s
produced incrementally and architecturally. If you can’t
quite see Barenboim in the role as the heroic pianist astride
Tchaikovsky’s steed, pay heed to this outstanding performance.
Fortunately it receives non-gimmicky, resolute camera work.
Once again co-ordination between conductor and soloist is a
slight concern but not, here, a real worry.
Ravel and Debussy
These items were filmed live at the Cologne Philharmonie on
two days during May 1994. Celibidache was to die two years later.
By now he was very frail, and was slowly led onto the stage,
where he receives a huge ovation. His performances of French
music have considerable detail and clarity. Indeed, they may
well be considered rather objectified. Celibidache had a maverick
view, saying that no French conductor could conduct French music.
This would have come as news to, say, Monteux and Munch, to
take just two of the eminent deceased. It might also have come
as news to Cluytens, Michel Plasson, and Georges Prêtre.
All three can conduct French music far better than Celibidache.
His Bolero lacks power, and there’s a strange lack
of atmosphere in Alborada del gracioso. But despite my
being out of sympathy with his performances, there’s no
doubting the control he exerts over his orchestra, or that they
give every ounce for him.
It’s a shame to end on a lower note, given the richness
to be encountered throughout this set of DVDs. Often I find
concert footage ephemeral and ask questions of its historical
significance as well as musical excellence. Given that one plays
DVDs far less often than one hopes, there must be something
about them to compel enthusiasm. I’d happily recommend
the box set for the Celi lover, but if you want me to rank them
from 1 to 5 in order of desirability (1 being most desirable),
given their separate availability, it goes like this:
1. Strauss and Rimsky
2. Schumann and Tchaikovsky
4. Prokofiev and Dvořák
5. Ravel and Debussy
If the New World had been better I’d have pushed
that disc above the Brahms.
see also reviews by Jonathan
Woolf of the Strauss/Rimsky-Korsakov release and Rob
Maynard of the Prokofiev/Dvorak release
Disc 1 [104:00]
Also available separately as 2060368
Disc 2 [111:00]
Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
Daniel Barenboim, Munchner Philharmoniker
Also available separately as 2066688
Disc 3 [114:00]
Symphony No. 9
Symphony No. 1
Also available separately as 2066558
Disc 4 [81:00]
Piano Concerto No. 1
Daniel Barenboim, Munchner Philharmoniker
Also available separately as 2066588
Disc 5 [101:00]
Bolero; Alborada del gracioso; Rhapsodie espagnole
Prelude e l’Apres-midi d’un faune; Iberia
Also available separately as 3077968