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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Mass No 3 in F minor: excerpts and rehearsal sequences [60.00]
Dame Margaret Price (soprano), Doris Soffel (mezzo), Peter Straka (tenor), Matthias Hölle and Hans Sotin (basses)
Munich Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/Sergiu Celibidache
rec. Priory of St Florian, 1993
Picture Format: 4:3
Disc Format: NTSC
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Region: 0
Language: German
Subtitle Languages: English, French, Spanish, Japanese
bonus: Guest appearance of Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and Sergiu Celibidache in Moscow, 1989 [5.00]
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 101 678 [65.00]

At first sight this video appears to be a recording of a concert performance of Bruckner’s final setting of the Mass from the Priory at St Florian where he was an organist and where he is buried. Closer examination shows that it is described as “a Jan Schmidt-Garre film” and in fact the contents comprise extracts from the performance interspersed with sections of the rehearsals, often bound together in one continuous music span. Initial disappointment is soon however dispersed by the realisation that the rehearsals actually add to our enjoyment.
 
Sergiu Celibidache was notorious for the length of the rehearsal periods which he demanded for his concerts. In the case of this performance in the resonant acoustic of St Florian the rehearsals extended over three weeks. This can be evidenced by the somewhat severe haircut which the principal oboist has undergone between the first orchestral rehearsal and the final performance. There is also the unexplained replacement of one bass soloist in the earlier rehearsals by another for the performance. The two violins at the leader’s desk appear to have swapped places at some stage.
 
It is noteworthy that Celibidache appears to have attended piano rehearsals with the choir, who - from their age profile - appear to be an amateur body of singers; professional choirs tend to be younger. Rather cruelly he first instructs the choir to sing with less than full voice to spare them from tiredness, only to then complain about the internal balance between parts in the fugal sections. He also, most unusually, made arrangements for an orchestral rehearsal with the solo singers, during which he spends some considerable effort in carefully managing the phrasing of the individual parts.
 
Celibidache’s rehearsals would appear to have been somewhat fraught affairs. At one session he spends a considerable amount of time on re-arranging the orchestra in order to be able to bring the choir further forward. This also provides the only example of him losing his temper, when he is decidedly snappish with the stage manager who has the temerity to tell the maestro that what he is asking for is impossible. He takes the orchestra through the opening of the Kyrie three times, on each occasion asking for increased emphasis on certain notes in the chording. He then turns round and tells the orchestra that the results are now too sentimental - he uses the loaded term schmalz - and that they did it better before, with the implication that it is all their fault. Any guest conductor who did this with an orchestra would I suspect be most unlikely to receive a return invitation.
 
It is hard to judge the performance as a whole from the snippets we are given, but as usual Celibidache’s speeds tend to be on the slow side, leading the late Dame Margaret Price to give him a somewhat sour look during rehearsals when she finds herself nearly running out of breath at the end of a phrase.
 
As always with Celibidache the results in terms of clarity of balance reveal elements in the score that often go missing in live performances. The liner-notes with the disc contain an interview with the conductor in which he again mounts his hobby horse about the ‘artificiality’ of recordings - another reason for the reluctance of orchestral managements to engage him over the years. It seems to me that he is simply misguided in this. By allowing his concert performances to be recorded, he enshrines permanently precisely the transient moment of a live event which he so decries. If he had made a conscious attempt to engage in studio recordings, he could have achieved with much less effort the precise balance and weight that he spends so much time attempting to obtain during rehearsals, and with considerably less effort on the part of all concerned.
 
In rehearsals he is not a great talker, usually restricting his comments to purely practical matters - a trait that would be generally welcomed by orchestras, who have an aversion to conductors who they regard as lecturing them. Ataulfo Argenta, a particular offender in this regard, according to John Culshaw’s autobiography literally “talked himself out of a job”. However Celibidache does spend some time telling the choir during a piano rehearsal about the sins of Bruckner’s early editors and the vexed question of ‘Bruckner editions’. It is doubtful that the choir would have found this particularly enlightening but it does come across well for a home audience. Indeed, the lack of any commentary during the documentary might well leave a listener somewhat bemused by the manner in which the music moves from piano rehearsal to orchestral rehearsal to performance and back again, without any explanation about where each element fits into the process. Those who would stand to gain most from this video will be student conductors, who may never be able to command the extensive rehearsal schedule of Celibidache but who could learn a lot from him about the detail of orchestral technique. This not only in terms of imitation; at one point he engages in a discussion with the principal viola about a bowing marking in the orchestral part which has no warrant in the orchestral score. This leads to the suggestion that Sir Thomas Beecham’s habit of going through the individual parts in detail and making markings in them had a great deal of merit in the saving of expensive rehearsal time. Composers would benefit, too; far too many scores even nowadays have a decided paucity of expression marks - one of Bruckner’s besetting sins - leaving such matters to be sorted out by the conductors in rehearsal - or simply ignored because of pressure of the clock.
 
The bonus item on the disc is a brief documentary on Celibidache’s visit with the Munich orchestra to Moscow in 1989. It has all the musical charisma of a news report which it closely resembles - pictures of press conferences and so on. The only complete musical performance included is that of the old Soviet national anthem, at one time abandoned but now thankfully restored by Vladimir Putin. Celibidache gives the stirring music quite a romantic twist, but the recorded sound does the orchestra no favours.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey
 


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