DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7, cond. by Sergiu Celibidache, Blu-ray (1992/2012)

An amazing performance beautifully videoed, and the only one with Bruckner specialist Celibidache conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

Published on October 28, 2012

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7, cond. by Sergiu Celibidache, Blu-ray (1992/2012)

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major
Berlin Philharmonic/Celibidache
Director: Rodney Greenberg
Plus documentary: “The Triumphant Return” dir. by Wolfgang Becker
Studio: EuroArts 2011404 [5/31/12] (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 16:9 (cropped from 4:3 original) 1080p HD color (Doc. = 4:3)
Audio: PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, Japanese
All region code
Extras: Documentary
Length: Concert – 90 min.; Doc. – 54 min.
Rating: *****

The great Roumanian conductor Celibidache shared conducting the Berlin Philharmonic during the post-WWII years with Furtwängler, but then Karajan was chosen as their lifetime conductor. Celibidache was having altercations with some of the musicians, so he left. In 1992 he returned to conduct this single Bruckner symphony—the composer being his specialty—and after an absence of 38 years it turned out to be not only his final concert with the orchestra before his death, but the only video of Celibidache and the Berlin Philharmonic in existence.

There are videos available of Celibidache (who hated making studio recordings) conducting “his” orchestra: The Munich Philharmonic, but good as they are this is after all The Berlin Philharmonic. Though trained under Karajan, they bend to Celibidache’s special immersion in Bruckner, and the result is a truly legendary performance, perfectly captured in terrific ungimmicky stereo sound and with excellent camera work. Yes, at 90 minutes with all the stuff at the beginning and long, well-deserved applause and passing out of flowers at the end, it is a very long symphony, but what an experience! The Adagio movement is probably the highlight of the whole thing—to my ears the equal of any performance of any Mahler slow movement. The whole triumphant performance is nothing short of a miracle, and so well captured both visually and sonically. Certainly an improvement over Karajan’s many videos with the Philharmonic. The audience present in Berlin’s Schauspielhaus clearly had a unique experience.

One little gripe about the aspect ratio: Though shot in the highest-res video of 1992, the producers of the Blu-ray felt they needed to upscale the video elements from the original 4:3 to today’s 16:9.  That meant either stretching the image at the sides, which of course they didn’t want to do, or just cropping it top and bottom to fit the 16:9 aspect ratio. Mostly that’s acceptable, but on the closeups of the maestro conducting, the top of his head is frequently cut off rather uncomfortably.

The documentary is interested to view once. It uses extensive footage from the rehearsal for the Bruckner Symphony, and shows what fine, almost nit-picking points Celibidache made with the musicians. It seemed a bit hard to stomach but the proof was certainly in the performance. There are also interviews with some former orchestra members.

—John Sunier




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